[identity profile] first-seventhe.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] brokenprism
A Cowboy's Ballad of Love, Loss, and Lies
or
Seifer Almasy and the Achy-Breaky Badonkadonk
Chapter One: The Job Requirements Do Not Include Fashion Sense (1/3)


Fandom: FFVIII
Characters: Seifer, Irvine, Zell, Fujin, Raijin
Rating: PG-13
Flags/Warnings: AU.

Summary: AU. Seifer is hired as a bodyguard for the rapidly-rising young country star Irvine Kinneas by his overprotective manager, Zell Dincht. The job's fraught with the dangers of screaming fans, unfortunate wardrobe choices, and actual conversations, but all Seifer really has to do is sit back and make sure no one (but him) punches Kinneas in the face.

For: [livejournal.com profile] bottle_of_shine. Nay has been waiting for this for something going on two years, which is really quite embarrassing.
Thanks: to [livejournal.com profile] lassarina, for idea bouncing and much-needed beta.

Public Disclaimer: I’m quite nervous about this, as it has seriously been built up for years and I fear nothing can ever equal the awesomeness that was and is the original idea.
Further Disclaimer: I'm expecting frothing discussion over which title to choose when I post the rest of this (and also for ff.net).

Notes: Yes. You read that correctly.

Irvine is a country singer. Zell is his manager. Seifer is his bodyguard.

If you’re still reading, you might like this. Since I’ve had months and months to work on this DON’T KILL ME NAY, it is an actual serious story with an outline and a plot and shenanigans and chemistry and bad guys and kissing and lots and lots of wardrobe changing, so if the total AU doesn’t turn you off, have fun..

Nay presented me with this AU world as a prompt and it definitely bit and did not let go, as you can see by the sheer number of words in this post and the admission that this is Chapter One of Three. Two is almost completed and once it has been through the betahammer of Rina, it will be continued; this is all I am going to write for the next month (except for FFEX), to make sure it gets finished.

I’m more than willing to ramble about this world or the characters or the difficulty of characterizing someone like Seifer without the actual in-game events of FFVIII, but I shall wait until the end of the entire fic to do so. I will simply say that the working-premise of this AU was interesting to develop.

Nay, I really hope you like it. Or that it isn’t terrible. Or both.

- - -

Chapter One: The Job Requirements Do Not Include Fashion Sense


- - -

The room Seifer stood in looked more like a garage sale than an office; his first instinct had been to turn around immediately and leave the building, but he reminded himself how well this job would pay if he could get it, and kept his feet still. The room was so bright and cluttered that he almost couldn't help but glance around; things kept assaulting his line of vision, each more ridiculous than the next. His eyes flicked from the collection of lurid neon coffee cups -- one overturned, two chipped, one still full of something so old it had become oily -- up to the walls, where a series of riotous photos hung in gaudy expensive frames, each more ridiculous than the last and none in any sort of pattern or alignment with the others. Seifer blinked and looked away, finding his line of sight unfortunately drawn to the blinding yellow-and-blue paisley couch, which kind of felt like a punch to his eyeballs. Maybe he should sit somewhere. Somewhere else.

Another furtive glance around the office, however, didn't reveal anything obvious -- save the couch, but since looking at it from a distance was nauseating, Seifer eliminated it as a possibility. There were three chairs facing the long mahogany desk. One was covered with a stack of papers, the next held two additional (thankfully empty) members of the Neon Mug Club, and the third bore a large wet stain on the cushion that Seifer's nose identified as coffee. At least, he hoped the scent was from the spill; that nasty-looking cup on the desk caught his eye once more.

Seifer turned back to the walls for lack of anything else to do. The photos covered almost all of the free space on the walls in a violent mishmash of gilded frames and professional-looking mats. At least half of them looked to be framed copies of comic books. A few of the pictures were of the famous singer himself, but the rest were full of unrecognizeable faces; Seifer spotted one of a man with a tattoo on his face, violently puking onto (and into) a shoe, and snorted. What kind of idiot paid for expensive frames and then proudly displayed his friends' drunken shenanigans on the walls?

"Sorry," a voice said from the door, and Seifer turned around to see a man sidling into the room, his arms full of towels. He was wearing a very finely-cut suit in a pattern that seemed to clash rather unfortunately with the couch; Seifer could already feel his temples throbbing. "I spilled my coffee right before you got here - man, I'm glad you didn't sit in it." The man turned around, and Seifer caught sight of spiked blond hair and the curling black tattoo that covered his cheek. Was that–? Seifer’s eyes flicked momentarily to the photo on the wall, and then back to the man’s face.

"Dincht." The man dropped the towels onto the wet chair and held out his hand. "Zell Dincht. I'm Irvine Kinneas' manager. You're here about the job."

Seifer bit back every smart reply he could think of: the job, Seifer, he reminded himself. "I saw your ad up at the gym," he replied. He took the man's hand after a second, giving it one firm shake.

"Go ahead, sit down." Zell headed behind the desk and gestured to the teetering tower of towels now covering the wet stain. "It's okay." He picked up the haphazard stack of folders resting on the cushioned desk chair, stuffing them somewhere mysterious behind the desk. Zell then removed his velour jacket, hanging it on a hook which seemed precariously nestled between a photo of someone with long hair and a crookedly framed comic covered with dancing aliens. "Just lemme dig out your application, here."

Seifer eyed the chair. He'd bought these jeans specifically for this interview, so he didn't have to come in something with holes and stains -- there was no way he was sitting on a coffee stain. Zell was watching him expectantly. Seifer finally picked up the two mugs on the middle chair and deposited them carefully on top of the towels, then sat down on the empty -- and dry -- seat cushion.

Zell collapsed into the seat with a huff; a sheaf of papers went flying onto the floor, but he paid it no mind. "Alright," he said, his eyes on the creased and wrinkled piece of paper in his hand. "I've got your application here. Let's skip all that intro stuff, right? You got any real experience?"

"Have I ever been a bodyguard before, not really." Seifer shrugged, and tried not to scratch at the collar of his shirt. "I've been working as a bouncer at one of the local bars, though. And I've got the kind of experience you need. I don't think the job will be anything I can't handle."

"Right." Zell's eyes dropped back to the paper, and then flicked up to Seifer. "Military?"

"Ex-mil," Seifer said, emphasis on the ex. He didn't really want to get into a discussion about this right now -- all he wanted was the stupid job. "And I don't have any demerits or anything, if that's your next question."

"Chill," Zell said. "You're fine." He sat back in his chair. His gaze flicked from Seifer's face to his shirt, and then down to the paper again. "So I need to ask a few questions, man, alright?"

"No problem." Seifer sat back in his own chair and reminded himself to answer like Raijin had coached him: politely.

"Sweet," Zell said with a quick grin. "Alright, so what in your opinion makes you the best guy for this job? What qualifies you over all the other guys out there?"

Seifer bit back a grin of his own; Raijin had quizzed him on this very question, and together they'd come up with a good answer that wasn't 'too arrogant' (in Raijin's terms) or 'too lame' (in Seifer's terms). "I'm a good fighter. Frankly, I'm the best guy you'll find who isn't already employed doing something."

"That's great," Zell replied, looking amused, "but the job isn't really all about fighting, y'know."

"I know," Seifer shot back. He crossed his arms. "There's a trick you learn, as a bouncer, when you've got the right skills. You learn how to break up a fight before it becomes a fight and your two best friends are stuck buying two new chairs and a half a dozen beer mugs. It's not just about winning fights, it's about preventing them. I'd assume being a bodyguard uses the same exact thing."

Zell leaned back in his chair, looking more interested now. "See," Seifer continued, glad that he'd spent the time with Raijin and Fujin preparing for this kind of thing. "Not only am I tough enough to protect your man, but I'm smart enough to avoid the dumb situations in the first place."

"And certainly humble, too," Zell added.

Seifer shrugged. "You asked. I'm not gonna lie about it." He'd actually gone after this job in the first place because it sounded like something he'd be good at -- something that might be interesting, rather than working the shelves at the supermarket, or fixing people's cars. He was qualified for this job, possibly overqualified, and he wasn't exactly going to hide the fact.

"Well." Zell set down the crumpled piece of paper. "You got any questions?"

His mind was full of them -- questions about the office decor, for example, or maybe the dress code -- but Seifer bit his tongue and remembered Fujin's threats if he didn't come home employed. "Job responsibilities," he said. "What exactly would I be doing?"

Zell grinned. "Being a bodyguard to Mister Irvine Kinneas, of course. Didn't you read the ad?"

"No, I just came here for fun." The words had already left his mouth before he realized smarting off to his future boss probably wasn't a good life choice. He sighed. Fujin was going to hurt him. Luckily, however, Zell was still grinning. He tried to patch it over. "Alright. What's a normal day like?"

"Well, we leave on tour next week." Zell rubbed at his tattoo with his palm. "During the days, you follow Mr. Kinneas around, make sure the fans don't get at him or hurt him. At night, you'd work with security -- make sure the concerts don't get too rowdy, keep people from going backstage, keep drunk girls off of Irvine's car, that sort of thing. Sometimes Irvine likes to go out after a show. You'd go with him, make sure nobody gets too up close and personal or anything, or decides to play Mug the Rock Star. You're in charge of his safety, and that's how you get paid. No getting punched in the face or anything, right? You stay with him."

"All night? Doesn't that cramp his dating style?" Seifer was a bit dismayed to hear the job was basically professional babysitting, but also a bit relieved: a few weeks of work, a stellar paycheck, and hopefully he wouldn't have to move a muscle. So what if it was a bit boring? So was sitting around the bar watching Fujin and Raijin bicker about money.

"Hey, look, I don't want my client getting the herp," Zell said, pointing a finger across the table at Seifer. "When I say safety, I mean it."

Seifer snorted. "So keep him away from skanks and rowdy drunks. I can handle that."

Zell sat back in his chair, looking approving. "What's your schedule like for the next month?"

Unemployed, Seifer wanted to say, but instead he said, "I'm free."

"Right!" Zell swiveled in the chair and opened a file drawer on the desk, which ran into the stack of folders and knocked it over like dominos; papers careened in a slippery slope past Zell and into the wall. "Here's our tour schedule. The tour starts next week, so you'll have a week to get used to our schedule and the way we run things. You'll have to be with us the whole time -- travel around with us. It's a 24/7 job, basically."

"Do I have to sleep with the man?"

Zell raised an eyebrow. "No," he said, his mouth twitching, "that's not part of the job, although feel free if the opportunity strikes."

Seifer grimaced. "You know what I mean."

"We'll put you up in our hotel," Zell said. "Expenses are paid, don't worry. And no, you don't have to sleep with him. He snores, anyway. You just gotta be there whenever he's up, make sure nothing happens to him. That's why we keep you there the entire time. You can't go home every night to mommy."

Seifer clenched his fists to avoid rolling his eyes. "When I'm here, I'm on. I'm not a flake."

Zell shrugged. "Needs to be said, man. It doesn't mean I think you're stupid or anything."

Seifer said nothing. His teeth were grinding. He'd be stuck the next four weeks working for a man whose suits made him want to stab his eyes out, let alone the attitude... but it didn't matter. It was a job. It would, ironically, be something he was good at.

"Speaking of paid." Zell leaned across the table. "Here's how it works. You get paid for every night Irvine comes home safe, without a scratch on him. Paychecks come through once a week, at the end of the week. If something happens that's his own fault -- y'know, if he falls out of bed or something like a dumbass -- obviously you don't get docked. But if there's some kind of incident... we cut off your pay. Two incidents, and you're fired, effective immediately."

Seifer shrugged. "Sounds simple enough."

"Great!" Zell leapt out of his chair and extended his hand across the desk. "You start tomorrow, Mr. Almasy. Be here at 8:00."

Seifer paused long enough to let Zell know he wasn't a hand-shaker, and then shook the offered hand anyway. It wouldn't do to piss off his new boss so early.

- - -

The bar was called Thunderstruck, and it was surprisingly full that night; a crowd of college kids had filled up one of the back corners. Seifer kept his eye on them from his usual seat in the corner, hiding behind a large mug of beer and drinking his water instead.

"Sorry." Raijin sat back down on his seat behind the bar with a bit of a huff. "I wish those kids would make up their mind as to what they're drinking, ya know?"

Seifer grinned. "That would make your life easy. Couldn't do that."

Fujin reached out for Seifer's beer, taking a long swig. "Continue."

"Are you supposed to be drinking on the job?" Seifer pulled the mug back to its original place, and smirked. "You guys don't let me do that."

"Owner," Fujin shot back, pulling the mug back possessively. "Different." Fujin and Raijin had hired him on as a bouncer when he'd showed up on their doorstep, jobless and with no prospects, recently ex-mil with a huge chip on his shoulder from the entire experience. Seifer knew they didn't mind supporting him, but his pride chafed from their charity; no matter how ridiculous this job turned out to be, it would be worth it.

"Anyway," Raijin said, sounding weary. "So you got the job?"

"Yeah." Seifer sipped at his water; where to start? "The guy interviewing me was a bit of a weirdo. His office looked like a flea market threw up, and his fashion sense... it looked like he was wearing a couch. I don’t even want to imagine what Irvine Kinneas actually wears." He'd slipped back into his comfortable jeans and shirt; the 'work outfit' lay neatly across the chair in his room, ready for tomorrow morning. “I hope this isn’t one of those ‘mandatory wardrobe’ jobs. If I ever come home dressed like a cow, please just shoot me.”

Fujin eyed him contemplatively. "Cow, no. But leather?” She grinned, evilly. "Could work."

"So what's the actual job?" Raijin asked. He grabbed Seifer's glass of water and refilled it from the bar tap.

Seifer sighed. "Basically they want me to babysit the guy for three weeks. Make sure none of his fans go crazy and give him a black eye or something."

Raijin pursed his lips. "It's kinda funny he needs a bodyguard anyway, y'know? Is he getting death threats or something?"

Fujin gave a loud snort of laughter. "His music – that terrible?"

"I have no idea." Seifer shrugged. "He's a country singer, apparently; made it really big on the scene last year. That's all I know, though, and I had to ask the guy at the gym about him." He sipped his water. "I guess I'll meet him tomorrow. Doesn't really matter what he's like -- this job pays better than anything else out there, and it sounds like a piece of cake."

"I guess you'll find out." Raijin stood up; a man was waiting at the other end of the counter with an empty mug. "Maybe he's a secret drug dealer or something, and that's why he needs a bodyguard."

"I hope not." Seifer grimaced at his own mug.

- - -

The door to Zell Dincht's office was closed when Seifer arrived, promptly at 8:00, wearing the jeans without holes and another collared shirt Fujin had picked out that itched a little less than yesterday's. He paused before the door for a moment, gathering -- what? His wits? His pride? Whatever, Seifer thought. Hopefully the guy wouldn't be too ridiculous. Seifer knocked.

Irvine Kinneas himself opened the door. Or, Seifer figured, a really good body double: it was the grinning, winking face he'd seen plastered on posters all over Deling City, the same face that had been conspicuously absent in the surprisingly simple ad at the gym (surprising in retrospect; Seifer hadn't thought the ad plain or boring until he'd been able to compare it with Zell Dincht's smorgasbord of an office). The bastard was even wearing a cowboy hat. And, Seifer noticed, chaps. Sueded ones. It was 8:00 in the freaking morning, and the man was already dressing the part.

"Howdy," Irvine Kinneas said. Seifer had to choke down his first retort, which was a mouthful of scathing laughter and a comment about the dress code. He said nothing for a moment too long; Kinneas tilted his head and said, "I assume you're the new guy?"

Seifer nodded. "Seifer Almasy." He tried to look around Irvine's ridiculous coat (fur-trimmed! Fur-trimmed. Fujin was going to have spasms) to see if the suddenly-relatively-tame Zell Dincht was available. Irvine Kinneas slouched against the doorframe casually, as if he knew what Seifer was doing. He winked. Seifer suddenly wanted to crawl into the nearest sink and wash himself clean.

"Nice to meet ya," Irvine said, holding out his hand. Seifer stared at it as if it was covered in -- cowboy germs, pony manure, whatever, something ridiculous in the water that made sane men put on clothing more fitting for upholstery. Irvine shifted, and Seifer's brain caught up with him, in the form of a reminder that this was the man he'd be working with for the next few weeks. He reached out and shook Kinneas' hand. He was secretly relieved when his clothes did not spontaneously break out with a severe case of the plaid and ruffled.

Kinneas sauntered away from the door towards the nauseating couch in the corner with a smooth, practiced manner. Seifer tried, very hard, not to gawk; no one was this practiced. Irvine Kinneas, famous country singer, was either the world's greatest actor of all time, ever -- or a true, genuine, actual country boy. Nobody bothered to walk that slow and gracefully when cameras weren't watching.

"Hey, Seifer." Zell Dincht sat up from behind his desk. Today he was wearing a simple suit; unfortunately for Seifer's palate, it was a simple suit the color of bad mustard. The neon version of bad mustard. Neon and burnt. His empty stomach churned. "This is Irvine. Irvine, Seifer. He's your new bodyguard."

"Yeah," Irvine Kinneas drawled. "I figured that one out myself, Zell. You don't normally bring me nice-looking young men in the mornin' -- not unless I've made you a million or something."

Seifer fisted both of his hands to resist the overwhelming urge to back out the door and never come back. Paycheck, he reminded himself. Paycheck. And an ass-kicking from Fujin. He stayed put.

"Behave, Irvine." Zell tossed something across the room; Irvine caught it, and Seifer realized it was a neon-pink coffee mug. "Don't scare this one off early. You know the rules... no guard, no tour."

"Right." Irvine turned to Seifer. "Sorry 'bout that. I'm just teasing you." He turned the coffee mug upright and filled it from a thermos resting on the low table. "Coffee? Apology?"

Seifer took a few steps forward, answering the siren call of the caffeine. He could even ignore the bright pink mug, for a few moments. Whoever made the coffee in this room had good taste, at least. The warm, bitter liquid tasted absolutely delicious. If the coffee was this good, he could put up with almost anything for four weeks. Seifer paused, and amended the thought: anything except being hit on by a country music star. Anything but that.

Kinneas watched as he took a sip. "You don't say much, do you?"

Seifer shrugged. "Will it get me fired?" he asked, a little more nastily than he'd intended. He took another sip of the coffee and tried not to look too surly.

"Course not." Kinneas grinned at him. "Your job's keeping my pretty little self safe from harm, not keeping me entertained."

"Good." Seifer took another long drink. "I'm not much for entertainment."

"Here it is!" Zell's head poked up again from behind the massive stack of paper masquerading as a desk; an arm waved, brandishing a red folder. "Good, you guys get to know each other. I'm gonna run this down to the sub, okay?" With a rustle of paper, Dincht emerged from behind the desk and brushed past Seifer on his way out the door.

Silence fell. Seifer took another swallow of coffee, enjoying it all the way down. Kinneas stared for a few moments, and then offered, "We have a sub bass player for tonight. That's my newest song there, that Zell's got. We're gonna have to rehearse it today."

Seifer wasn't really sure how this news affected him. "What will I have to do today?"

Kinneas grinned again. "You just follow me around all week, get to know the ropes, get to know the guys around here we tour with. Get used to me an' my schedule. It'll be an easy week for you. I've gotta finish recording a new single -- we want it to release right when the tour starts. Think it'll sell a pretty penny."

"I just follow you?" His stomach clenched again. Seifer gritted his teeth; this was a week of good pay. "Sounds easy enough."

"Should be." Kinneas winked. "I don't get in too much trouble while I'm recording."

Grins, winks, a coat trimmed with fur -- was this guy for real? Seifer took a good look at Irvine Kinneas as the country star refilled his coffee from the thermos. He seemed casual and carefree. What kind of guy like this would need a bodyguard? Was it really just an insurance thing, to keep potential bruises off that pretty face, to keep selling the tickets? Seifer tried to picture him in the Thunderstruck -- well, maybe that explained it; a lot of the regular patrons would be lining up to punch this guy in the face.

"Hey, you freaking moron, don't take it all." Zell Dincht came barreling through the door, sprawling himself across the couch. "I made that special for our guest this morning, and I haven't had any."

"Ain't my fault, now, is it?" Despite the words, Irvine stopped pumping the top of the carafe and leaned back. "There you go, whiner, the rest can be yours and the new boy's."

"Sorry about that, Seifer." Dincht filled a neon-yellow cup with coffee. "I'm sure Irvine told you -- today you'll follow him around, meet some of the people, get a feel for the way we operate. We'd like to take you out to dinner tonight, if that's okay. Talk a little bit, get to know you."

"I don't have any plans." The thought of a dinner with these two was almost intriguing in its hilarity; besides, if they were paying, it might be somewhere nice.

"Alright!" Dincht actually pumped a fist in the air. Seifer's headache momentarily returned. "Well, Irvine, he's all yours. Make sure he meets all the sound guys in recording." He turned to Seifer. "Most of our sound guys double on the security team at concerts, so you'll end up working with most of them that way."

Seifer nodded. Maybe those people would be able to tell him some more about how this little show actually worked.

Irvine placed his mug on the table and stood up, gesturing at Seifer. "You'd better leave that mug here, or he'll have your head."

"Does he actually wash them?" Seifer obediently put his mug on the table next to Irvine's.

"Ha, ha," Zell said. "First day here and you're both already ganging up on me."

Irvine tipped his hat at Zell, and then headed out the door. Seifer followed. They walked down the hall of the office building; Seifer glanced around as they moved, trying to gain as much information as possible about this building -- some rooms to the left, dimmed and darkened, and one office to the right which looked like an empty copy of Zell's. Maybe Zell should start storing his folders in there, Seifer thought.

Irvine stopped in front of an odd double door; he gestured for Seifer to enter, then closed the door behind them before opening the next door. "Keeps the dust out," he said. "This is my guitar room."

"Guitar room?" As Seifer entered, he realized the question was unneccessary: black hooks on the walls held a myriad of guitars, all in a neat row; brightly colored sparkling plastic alternated with smooth-looking natural wood. It was quite aesthetically pleasing, and Seifer nodded in some strange form of approval. Then again, after Zell's decorating principles, he approved of Raijin's decor, which usually consisted of smelly shoes strewn pleasingly across whatever carpet was available (his own, Seifer's, Fujin's, the bar's).

Irvine was watching him, and as Seifer glanced back, the singer gave a strange little nod, as if that was the response he'd expected. Seifer, confused, quirked an eyebrow, but Irvine instead turned towards the wall. Seifer watched as his fingers reached out and brushed against the strings of one solid-black piece, then moved on to the bright-red one next to it. Irvine gave a pleased little smile, and reached up to take down the red guitar. Its body was smooth, the neck a deep rich brown. For all his taste in clothing, Irvine Kinneas had good taste in instruments.

Irvine headed to the corner, where he carefully set the guitar into a case. "Sorry," he said, standing up with the case in hand. "Let's go, now."

"Do I need to carry that for you?" Seifer asked as they left the room. "Wouldn't want you to sprain a muscle."

Irvine chuckled. "Not just yet," he said. "Ask me again after I've had a few beers."

They went directly into the next room. It was all-white, with strange white cushions on the walls. For a moment, Seifer wondered whether Zell's odd aesthetic had made its way here as well -- but then he realized it was some kind of sound-proofing, and this was a recording studio. In the actual building. He'd always thought recording studios were odd separate entities, churning out hip-busting hits; apparently, a singer like Irvine Kinneas got his very own, right next door to his freaking guitar room.

"Here," Irvine said, holding open a thin door. "You can chill with the sound guys while I try to lay down this scratch track, okay?"

"Sure," Seifer replied, as if he had some kind of choice in the matter. He entered the small room, and when the door closed, he was surprised at the distinct lack of air.

The two men sitting at the table -- both skinny, with dark hair -- looked up. "You're the new bodyguard?" said the closest one, turning in his chair to extend a hand.

Seifer eyed the hand, then shook it. "Seifer Almasy," he replied.

"I'm Biggs," said the closest one. "This is Wedge. Welcome to the, uh, organization."

Seifer said nothing else. He leaned against the wall for most of the afternoon, as Biggs and Wedge played with a million little dials in the room and Irvine Kinneas plucked out something on his red guitar that seemed to take thirty times to get absolutely correct. Seifer couldn't hear anything -- only a faint melody leaked out from the headphones Biggs and Wedge wore. Kinneas seemed to take the session fairly seriously: every now and then he'd flash a grin at the studio window, but mostly he spent his time strumming the guitar and singing something.

Seifer shifted his weight for the thirteenth time, and Wedge turned around, seeming to suddenly recognize him. "Here, you wanna have a listen?" He held out the large headphones.

Seifer very nearly said no, but then realized he'd gotten no better offers for entertainment for the afternoon. He shrugged, and reached out for the headphones, placing them carefully onto his head and squishing each of the extra-thick pads onto his ear. There was no sound, but as he looked up at Wedge quizzically, the other man grinned and shot him a thumbs-up. "Here." Wedge turned one of the dials on the table in front of him.

A rich male voice crooned into Seifer's ears, so loud he almost jumped. "Too loud," he called to Wedge, and it must have been at a fairly high volume itself, for Biggs glanced over his shoulder in confusion. Wedge turned the volume down slightly. Seifer adjusted the headphones on his ears.

There was silence, and then the strum of a guitar, a soft and gentle rhythm. Irvine's voice flowed again, something about being lost; he stopped, and a breath-taking series of notes slipped through the headphones. Seifer glanced up; Irvine's eyes were on his guitar as he finger-picked out the gentle melody.

Seifer took off the headphones and handed them back to Wedge, who looked up expectantly. "A bit sappy for my tastes," Seifer replied. "But he's alright."

"He's good," Wedge said, defensively. "Most singers nowadays can't even play an instrument."

Seifer didn't really think that made Irvine Kinneas any better -- it only made the other morons more moronic -- but he didn't say anything. His small knowledge of country music included total old-timers like Walker Black and Tam Olson, names so old and old-fashioned they probably would’ve given Kinneas spasms, and Seifer wasn’t really up to being made fun of for his abysmal taste in music by this particular dynamic duo. Instead, he asked, "So you guys help out with the security detail?"

Wedge nodded, and proceeded to explain to Seifer how Mister Kinneas liked to have the same people around him for everything, both recording and performing and even on his break-time, like they were one giant family. He then launched into an informative description of the work they did before, during, and after concerts, citing multiple times it had come down to an actual brawl backstage. Seifer listened carefully, trying to pick out useful details like "backstage passes" from less useful ones like "even if her boobs are huge, man."

“So the security is all you guys?” he asked, when Wedge finally paused to take a breath. “How many of you are there?”

“Eh…” Wedge made a show of counting on his fingers. “Maybe half a dozen of us to work the stage, and then another half-dozen crew for other stuff – it’s not a big team.” He grinned. “You’re lucky, man. Dincht’s the best. People in the industry fall all over themselves to work with the guy, you know.”

Seifer shrugged. “I’m not really in the industry.”

"I think he'll like you," Biggs said, turning around in his swivel chair. His headphones were around his neck; Seifer glanced sharply through the glass. Irvine still sat there, but he was drinking a bottle of water and doing some kind of awkward stretching. "Breaktime," Biggs said in response to Seifer's look. "But I think you'll do much better than the last one. I really do."

Wedge grinned. "Word on the street is that Irvine had to fire the last guy because he tried to hook up with one of Irvine's girls."

Biggs gave Seifer a more calculating glance and said, slowly, "You just don't seem like that type."

"Not interested," Seifer replied. "When I'm on the job, nothing else matters." Maybe that explained Zell's funny comments, in his interview. Then again, Seifer was beginning to suspect that nothing in the world would explain Zell Dincht. He'd been moderately pleased to note the comfy, boring, casual dress code in this particular room. Maybe there were some people of sense involved in this particular operation, anyway.

The recording session resumed, and Seifer made himself comfortable in a discarded chair he found in the back of the room. Watching all of these buttons and bars was fascinating, albeit in the sense of gee, I'm glad I don't have to do any of that. His eyes kept going back to Irvine, through the window. His words had been something ridiculously emotional, something about leaving and losing -- and yet his face looked so serious, so sincere. It was hard to match up this Irvine with the swaggering, winking cowboy he'd met earlier. He put a show on in the morning, with the costume and the chaps and the mannerism, and then dropped the facade behind the guitar? Or which was the facade?

Why did Seifer even care? He stood up again to stretch his legs, and noticed that Irvine was packing away the red guitar. A glance at a clock showed the entire afternoon had rolled by. Biggs and Wedge were frantically rolling around the room on the wheeled chairs, flipping switches and making copies of something. Finally, Irvine entered, flashing a grin at everyone as he gestured with his guitar.

"Good day's work. That last take was pretty brilliant. Alright, Berk, it's almost time for dinner."

Biggs groaned, and said, patiently, “No, Irvine, this is Seifer, the new guy.”

Irvine's eyes looked confused and cloudy for a second, and then it vanished into a grin. "Oh, shit, sorry! You're right, you're right.”

Wedge leaned in towards Seifer and said in a too-loud stage whisper: “He’s always like this, man.”

Irvine chuckled. “Sometimes my head gets in the zone when I'm writing, and there's no room for anything else in there. You know the feeling?"

"Maybe." Seifer probably should have felt more insulted than he did, really; the guy was just a flake. With this many people around him, it was a wonder he could remember his own name, or to put his pants on in the morning. Then again, Seifer thought, maybe that explained the wardrobe.

Irvine shook his head a little, looking sheepish. "Sorry, man. I get singin' and playin', and it's like nothing else matters. C'mon, it's almost time for dinner. I'll freshen up and we can go."

- - -

The restaurant was simply called Terra's, and it looked even from the outside like the sort of ridiculously expensive place a music star would choose to eat at: almost extravagantly simple, no external decor save the perfectly trimmed bushes and exquisitely aligned waterfalls. They'd taken a limo -- Seifer's first time in one; his opinion was that they were a little overrated, what with the fuzzy seat covers all patterned after different sorts of animals. He was pretty sure there was no reason a Wendigo-fur pillow should even bother existing, although he was mildly surprised Dincht hadn’t tried to wear the ugly thing as a hat.

Zell and Irvine seemed to know the head waiter person (he was pretty sure there was a fancy name for the guy, but it eluded him, and to be honest Seifer didn't really give a shit anyway), and they breezed right in, past a couple of women wearing sequinned dresses which might have looked at home on Dincht's walls. There was a small round table in a dark, secluded corner; it had "regulars" written all over it, and as Zell relaxed into his seat the waiter approached with two drinks on his little tray, which confirmed it.

The waiter blinked. "You've brought a friend tonight, I see." His voice had a heavy accent, one Seifer guessed he'd learnt to seem more cultured. He sat the two drinks down in front of Zell and Irvine, respectively; Zell had some kind of cocktail, while Irvine's looked like beer in an absurdly fancy mug. "And what would sir like to drink?"

Seifer tried not to smirk, or slouch, or punch the man over his accent. "Sir would love to have a bourbon on the rocks."

"Of course." The waiter bowed, and vanished back into the darkness of whatever corridor he'd emerged from. Seifer hoped the bar was close.

This entire thing was getting more and more ridiculous. He was, on some small and selfish level, really starting to wonder about this job. The clothes, the attitudes, the frivolous extravagance everywhere -- even the limo, which was damn extravagant on its own, wasn't enough; it had to be stuffed with pillows fresh off the Esthar fashion runway. He could go find a simpler job somewhere -- maybe somebody needed a delivery boy. He could get a motorcycle. He'd look good on a bike. But then he was back to Fujin's leather-pants suggestion.

The waiter emerged from the black hall of doom and carefully placed a cocktail glass before Seifer. "Best in the house, for our guest," he said, as if Seifer should be appreciative. Not that he wasn't -- the best in this house would certainly be better than the best at the Thunderstruck, where Fujin and Raijin refused to keep any bottle costing more than 100 gil on the premises for security reasons. He took a deep whiff, and smiled at the pungent scent. He didn't drink much, but when he did, it was usually good stuff like this.

"Will it be the usual tonight?" The waiter addressed his question to Zell Dincht, who was sipping at his cocktail. Zell nodded in reply, and the waiter shot a glance across the table. "For all three of you?"

"Uh, yeah," Zell said, glancing at Seifer like a question. "The usual?"

Seifer raised an eyebrow: as if he'd just know what 'the usual' was, because he came here all the time. Bunch of idiots. "What's the usual?"

"It's delicious," Irvine said. "Best cooked steak you'll ever have in this city. Size of your head."

Steak sounded good. It sounded expensive. "Sure," Seifer said. "The usual it is."

"And," Zell added, waving a hand in the air, "how about some kind of appetizer? You guys got something, uh, a calamari plate or something?"

"Certainly." The waiter nodded. Seifer noted he wasn't writing anything down. "A calamari plate it is. Is this a special occasion? Can I interest you in a bottle of wine with your dinner?"

Zell and Irvine both turned to Seifer, inquisitive and eager looks on their faces. They were trying so hard to impress that Seifer almost burst out laughing right there. "That's alright," he said instead, holding up his glass in a gesture he hoped was obvious. "I'm good."

"Very well." The waiter bowed again, as if they were royalty, and then left.

"So." Zell settled down into his chair at an absurd angle, and Seifer realized he had his legs crossed underneath him. It would have looked funny on most people -- in fact, it did look a bit funny on Zell, but funny-comfortable, as if Zell Dincht were a human pretzel, more comfortable folded than not. "So what did you think about your first day?"

Seifer took a sip of the bourbon in an effort to avoid either shrugging or blurting out the first answer he could think of: boring and ridiculous both floated across his mind, followed closely by you guys are a bunch of frigging morons. "It's not too bad," he offered finally. Zell's eyes were like a weight he couldn't shake, and he noticed Irvine was watching him too, behind the beer and beneath the cowboy hat.

"Hey, let's not talk work," Irvine said. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and giving a rather crooked, charming smirk. It looked practiced, but it also looked casual -- Seifer couldn't decide which. "We're just here to have some good food and get to know each other, right?"

"True." Zell jostled his cocktail glass around on the table a little, as if playing a new sport. "So are you from around here? Deling? How long have you been here?"

"Long enough," Seifer replied shortly.

Irvine laughed. "I take it you're from the area, then?"

"Nah." He wasn't really sure how to change the subject. "But I've been here for a while. Long enough." Would they get the message? Were they capable of getting messages?

"Irvine's first shows were here," Zell said, and then added hastily: "His first real shows, I mean. Any guy with a guitar can have a show, that kind of thing. I mean his first actual concerts. Here, in Deling."

"Mmm-hm." Seifer kept his answer deliberately non-committal and watched as the waiter sat down a plate of something fried, with a row of multi-colored dipping sauces. Fried was usually a good sign - one he hadn’t expected from a place like this - but the things looked like they had legs. Or tentacles. He eyed the plate.

"What," Irvine said with a chuckle, "you afraid of a litle calamari?" He picked one up, dipped it into a thick brown sauce, and popped it into his mouth. "You don't have to try it, if you're 'fraid of what it'll taste like."

Seifer sat up and took one. Like hell was he going to let this little shit think he was scared of a baby octopus covered in batter. He dipped it into something mustardy-yellow and took a bite. It was rubbery, and he tried very hard not to think of tentacles as he swallowed. It was, he was disgusted to admit, actually delicious.

Zell shoveled a few pieces onto his little plate and set it back down at his elbow. "Anyway, did Irvine tell you any of the stories about his first few shows?"

Seifer shook his head. In an act of great daring, he took another piece of fried sea creature.

"The second show he had," Zell said with a grin, "we hadn't settled the rigging for the lightshow yet. The entire thing came down around him during the second set. Right on stage."

"Zell," Irvine said, shaking his head. "Don't exaggerate it. I don't really think it was all that bad, an'-"

"All that bad?" Zell paused for a second, his hand poised over the plate of calamari like a bird frozen in midair. "What do you mean, it wasn't all that bad? The rig broke a frigging hole in the stage; we had to cancel the whole show, do another one the next night-"

Irvine was still shaking his head, slowly. "No way. I remember having all the technical difficulties, but I'm pretty sure nothin' actually fell through the stage or anything-"

"Are you insane?" Zell's voice rose to an interesting pitch, and Seifer wondered whether he’d been caught in a lie or if he was actually upset. "Seriously? How do you not-"

Irvine chuckled. “I think I’d remember if I was almost—“

“But the entire frigging thing—“

“It was just the lights, Zell, remember, they went out—“

“Yeah,” Zell said angrily, “the lights, and the fact that our scaffolding almost broke open your fucking face like—“

Seifer set his drink down on the table with more force than necessary, to represent the headache this argument was giving him. Irvine Kinneas and Zell Dincht swirled their heads around almost in unison to gaze at him, eyes wide and somewhat confused.

“What the fuck is wrong with you two?” He took his hand off the glass, afraid his grasp would break it.

Zell blinked, and said, “Huh?”, and Seifer felt his temper snap.

"Seriously," he said, waving a hand in frustration. He was fed up with this little charade -- they were like boys playing a game; boys who thought life was some kind of shit-for-brains game and were balls-out lucky enough to have the money to feed the little charade. "Is this for real? You two dress up in these fancy costumes, you go out for expensive meals, you hire a bodyguard so it looks like you're a real star in some kind of real danger. Then you squabble like some shriveled old married couple over memories that are so ridiculous they sound made the fuck up."

He looked up from his drink and glanced between the two of them. "Seriously, is this what I'm going to have to put up with? You guys messing with me all the time? Because I'll quit."

There was a long and drawn-out moment of silence. Then Zell muttered towards his drink, "I told you he was a dick."

"Shut up," Irvine said. To Seifer's surprise, he didn't sound angry or upset or even insulted. He sounded... sincere.

"No, seriously, Irvine." Zell threw a sulky look across the table at Seifer, and then went back to glaring at his beverage. "Is this asshole the kind of guy you want watching your ass for the next few weeks?"

"I won't be watching his ass," Seifer pointed out nastily, at the same moment that Irvine Kinneas said: "Hell yes."

Both Seifer and Zell froze for a moment out of complete surprise.

Irvine continued, turning to look at Seifer with a gaze so soulful it was almost grossly intimate; he wanted to puke. "After Berk, I want a guy who's gonna be straight with me, Seifer. I don't want to have to worry about what a guy's doin' behind my back while he's supposedly watching it." He shrugged, and the gaze flicked off like a lightswitch. "You know it, Zell, well as I do."

"The guy's still a dick," Zell pointed out.

"Yeah, well." Irvine turned back to Seifer. "I'm not really sure how we got to that point here -- I don't really know what about this little dinner was so offensive." He said the word very deliberately. "I mean, Seifer, so like, this is supposed to be some kind of get-to-know-the-new-guy thing. We're not playin' games with you. We're not trying to mess with you somehow. When you're gonna be spending a lot of time with a man, you kind of want to get to know him, welcome him to the group, y'know?"

"I don't think he's the welcome to the group type," Zell muttered.

"Look," Seifer said, "am I here to chat you up and tell stories about my family life, or am I here to make sure nobody punches you in the face?"

"It's a good point," Irvine admitted, slowly. "Just look, if I gotta have a guy around all the time, I'd rather I liked him a little bit, or could at least talk to him some. I don't necessarily think that's too much to ask."

"Look," Zell said angrily. "If you don't want the job because you're too much of a freaking monkey to be able to treat people like decent human beings, it's okay. We'll keep looking."

“Maybe if you’d act like decent human beings,” Seifer began – and then he remembered that no, this wasn’t Fujin and Raijin across the table, nor was it his dick of an ex-Commander, nor any of the little wankers that liked to cause trouble at the Thunderstruck. This was, in fact, his employer. He paused. Zell and Irvine were both cautiously frozen, waiting for a response. Seifer took a deep breath. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

"That isn't what I meant." He took another deep breath, feeling frustrated and annoyed by the whole thing. He was already pissed that he'd opened his mouth – stupid temper – but fuck, what was a smart man supposed to do? Still, he couldn't really afford to lose the job. "Look, I'm hired muscle, not a rent-a-friend. And that's totally fine with me, if it's fine with you."

"Zell," Irvine warned, raising a hand. "No. I like this guy. He stays."

"Are you friggin' serious?" Zell spread his hands, questioning. "Do you think this jackass is really the best we can do? We could probably find somebody else. I bet plenty of people would bend over backwards for this job, and be just as good."

”Not possible.” Seifer grinned the grin he practiced in the mirror behind the bar at the Thunderstruck, the one he felt made him look mildly unhinged.

"Yeah, yeah, because you're Mister Awesomesauce." Zell crossed his arms and gave Irvine a sulky look. "Look, just remember in the future that I was the one pulling for you to get rid of him."

"Nah." Irvine looked up at Seifer. Seifer looked back, a little surprised at the calm reaction. Irvine seemed genuinely pleased at the proceedings. Maybe he was just happy to pull one over on his manager, Seifer mused. "I think Seifer and I can work together just fine."

A very polite cough signaled the presence of the waiter. Seifer stared at his glass, trying to break it with his glare, as the waiter carefully set the plates down in front of each of them. The steak did look good. Damn good.

"So." Irvine raised his glass towards Seifer; the gesture somehow indicated the steak, the drinks, and the entire situation, all in one motion. "Truce?"

"Yeah," Seifer muttered, as he lifted his glass to clink against Irvine's, "truce."

- - -

"You," Fujin said. "Tired?"

Seifer put his head down on the table. "Exhausted." It was easier to admit in front of Fujin, who worked herself to the bone and would understand exactly what he was talking about. "Why are there so many frigging morons in the world?"

"Entertainment." Her teeth flashed in a quick smile.

Raijin approached, carrying three large mugs of something dark -- maybe a porter. He set them down on the table and slid in next to Fujin. "So, you guys head out tomorrow."

Seifer sat up. He was tired to the point of ridiculousness if he was actually going to drink something from Raijin -- but once Fujin picked it up and sipped, he had to. "Yeah, tomorrow night's the first show. The show's here, but apparently we pack up and travel right after it's done, because we have to make it to Dollet the next day for some photo thing."

"What's it like?" Raijin asked. Seifer shot him a look, and the man laughed: "Hey, ya know, we all get this image that it's all glamorous and fancy and exciting, right? Is it?"

"Not at all," Seifer said decisively. "Their entire tour team is a mess. They all love Kinneas too much to think, so you've got a bunch of guys with their heads up their asses running around putting really expensive gear in whatever box it fits in. This week I've been learning all the security loopholes of the Deling City stage, right? They actually want somebody watching the roof. The roof." He shook his head. "Because this is some terrorist operation, not a dumb guy with a guitar."

"I'm surprised you're here for dinner, at all," Raijin said. "I thought you said this job was gonna be a twenty-four-seven gig, ya know?"

"Yeah, well." Seifer grimaced, remembering. "Irvine wants to go out somewhere local tonight, which means I have to go with him. So Zell said I could have one last dinner on my own in town before the big crunch hits."

"Flattered." Fujin flickered her lashes at him in a look so sardonic Seifer couldn't help but chuckle a bit.

"Yeah, well. I haven't been paid yet, so this is the only place I can still afford." He tapped his mug on the table. "Speaking of, where's the food?"

Raijin sighed, the long put-upon sigh of a bar owner. "I just put the order in a few minutes ago, man. Give the poor guy some time."

"So, tonight," Fujin said slowly, her lips smirking despite her obvious efforts to keep a straight face. "Clubbing?" The twitch of her eye said, leather pants?

Seifer shrugged, defeated. "I don't even know. The guy says he likes to go out for a few drinks the night before a show to get a 'feel for the town', whatever that means. I tried to explain the feel of Deling City but then his manager told me not to swear so much in front of the roadies."

Raijin smirked. "You gonna bring him here?"

"Thought about it," Seifer said, "but he wants live music. Says something about the live music really 'gets him going' on stage. I don't know." It was frustrating, but at the same time, he was glad to be doing anything easy -- after the long hard week of manual labor and memorizing set lists (which meant nothing), he was ready to sit back and relax and make sure no one punched Kinneas in the face. "There are a couple places down in the Warehouse District, I thought we'd just start there."

Fujin gestured at Seifer. "Tour Guide?"

He snorted. "Something like that. You should see it, Fu -- they keep taking me out to dinner, asking me all these questions, chatting me up like I'm some kind of paid escort service. It's kind of weird, but whatever -- if that's the job, they can talk my ear off for all I care."

The waiter interrupted then, setting a fish sandwich and a massive pile of fries in front of Seifer. The scent of greasy, fried fish was welcome after days of eating things with tentacles and steaks with no char; he slathered the sandwich with that creamy white sauce Raijin knew he loved, and then made a nice large puddle of ketchup right in the middle of the pile of fries. It was sad that he'd been eating out all week long and this was the kind of meal he looked forward to, but hey -- he couldn't really help that Fujin's cook made a mean fish fry.

The meal went by too quickly. He'd been a regular at Raijin and Fujin's place for so long now; realizing he'd be gone for the next few weeks was a surprisingly strange sort of feeling. Relief, in one sense, that he'd be out on his own with a job he was good at making his own money -- but also, Raijin and Fujin were good people with normal taste in clothing and a good healthy helping of common sense. He'd be spending the next few weeks surrounded by flash and sequins and leather with fringe. He'd seen the stage costumes while doing a lap around the Deling stage to make sure he knew his own way, and he'd wanted to burst out laughing -- or, perhaps, throw up. Maybe laugh while throwing up, if that was even possible.

Soon it was time to head out; Irvine had asked him to show up around seven, and Seifer planned to walk. “Gotta go, guys,” he said, standing up and stretching. “Don’t let this place burn down without me.”

“Get out.” Fujin gave him a wink. “Sick of you.”

Raijin stood up and then awkwardly jammed his hands in his pockets. “Hey, write or something, ya know? Send us some pictures or something. We’ll put ‘em up.”

Seifer glanced over at the bulletin board, where Fujin and Raijin kept a collection of humorous or obscene souvenirs on display. “I’ll send you the ugliest postcards I can find,” he promised.

As he left, he blew a sassy kiss towards the bar for good luck, which prompted Fujin to snap a towel at his ass on the way out.

The streets of Deling were empty, and that suited Seifer perfectly. He jammed his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat; there was a bit of a breeze. He passed two girls outside having a smoke in front of a restaurant; idly he wondered what would happen if he told them tomorrow he'd be on stage with Irvine Kinneas. They probably wouldn't believe it -- it was a little unlikely that somebody with holes in his jeans knew someone so famous. But it would be funny to watch the looks on their faces.

He had to admit: Kinneas had a certain kind of charm to him. After spending a week in the man's company, Seifer also had to admit to himself that the charm wasn't false, either (although that didn't make it any less irritating). Kinneas was genuine -- all of the country-music euphemisms were things he lived and breathed like air and water. Seifer hadn't thought people actually came in that variety, especially rock stars who were rich enough to afford their own lobster buffet. In Deling, people that rich got to be any kind of asshole they wanted to be, something Seifer knew a little bit about first-hand. Only saps like Kinneas got that rich and were still nice for fun. It would’ve been refreshing, if the guy weren’t so annoying.

And Dincht wasn’t too bad, as long as Seifer wasn’t looking directly at stuff like his gleaming silver shirt (and that wasn’t an exaggeration; the sun had reflected off of the thing. It looked like holographic tin foil gone terribly wrong) during conversation. The rest of the touring team loved Dincht and missed no opportunity to sing his praises to the new guy, which should have colored Seifer against him from the very start – but Seifer found himself grudgingly admitting Dincht was the glue holding the entire team together. None of the fuckups that week had been Dincht’s fault, at least, and yet the guy had taken care of all of them without even losing that shit-eating grin. Seifer had seriously wondered whether Dincht was on some kind of street drug which gave him unlimited amounts of energy. Maybe one of the side effects was a love for unfortunate fabric.

He entered the building and swiped his keycard for the elevator. (They'd finally gotten around to taking his photo on the third day, and his face looked a little squashed; Dincht wasn't the best photographer. It made Seifer wonder who had taken all the photos hanging in the office.) Kinneas' organization took up a few floors of the building, but Irvine's "special rooms" were on the seventh floor.

The door opened with a sullen ding!, and Seifer narrowed his eyes: all the lights were off on the seventh floor. Was Kinneas even here? Was anyone here? The card gave him 24/7 access to every floor he'd ever need to get onto, but not many people had the same access. Seifer waited, motionless, in the dark, until his eyes started to adjust to the dim lighting, coming from exit signs and cracks under various doors. Why would this hall be all shut off like this? Where the hell was Kinneas? Seifer mentally took back all the nice thoughts he'd just had. Kinneas was a moron.

His eyes had adjusted, well enough that he could make it down the hall to the small cozy study-like room he knew Kinneas favored. The lights were on; Seifer knocked and then pushed the door open without waiting for a response. The front room was empty, but he could see Kinneas' lanky legs stretched out in the second half of the room. "Irvine," he said, more than a little irritated. "Irvine. Hey!"

There was no answer. Seifer stalked into the room and kicked Kinneas' legs. Irvine was sitting at the little computer he used for recording, headphones on, playing something back. He looked surprised at the intrusion.

"Seifer." The grin was there, though, same as always. "What're you doin' here so late?"

"Are you joking?" Seifer glanced at the computer screen: notes on a staff, little dots on long lines. Seifer couldn't read it, but he'd bet money on it sounding like shit at this particular moment. "I thought you wanted to go out on the town tonight."

Irvine relaxed in his chair. "Nah, not tonight, but thanks for asking, man."

"Asking? The only reason I'm here is because you told me earlier to take you!" Seifer clenched his fists at his sides and tried really hard to think happy thoughts. Ha, was this Irvine Kinneas’ idea of a date? No wonder the man was single. “You said earlier you wanted to hit the town, and we both know that means bodyguard. So c’mon, let’s go.”

Irvine shrugged, and stretched his legs, crossing them at the ankles on a nearby chair. “No way, man. I told Zell I’d finish this proof up tonight. He’s got it in his head that we could debut a song while I’m out on the road, and—“

“Whatever.” It was a phrase Seifer had picked up from some jerk in the military, which tended to slip out when he was excessively annoyed at something. “If you’re not going anywhere, I’m heading back to the bar.”

“Woah!” Irvine put his feet back on the ground and sat up, pushing the headphones down to hang around his neck. “Why so pissy, man? Hey, my bad, just a miscommunication. You know things have been nuts around here. So like… no big deal.”

“I’m not upset!” Seifer stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried to arrange his face so he didn’t look so pissed off. “It’s not a big deal at all. Maybe I misheard you.” How the fuck did the man get under his skin so much? It was just a job. He shrugged, and almost felt better. “Alright, I’m out.”

Kinneas grinned up at him as he set the headphones back on his head. “Thanks for checkin’ in, Seifer. See you tomorrow.”

Seifer said, obediently, “’night, Kinneas,” and turned to head back down the long hall. It was almost funny, or it would have been if he hadn’t been so annoyed: ha, he’d just been stood up by Irvine Kinneas. He wondered what the two girls outside that bar would’ve had to say to that. No wonder Kinneas needed a manager and a thousand roadies and butt-kissers. Idiot couldn’t keep his own schedule straight. Seifer tried to imagine the screaming fit Dincht had given Kinneas earlier about recording to change his mind; Dincht’s screaming fits were legendary among the team, but Seifer had yet to actually see one.

He glanced over his shoulder once out the door; Irvine had the headphones on, and squiggly notes and lines were scrolling past on the screen of the computer. “Moron,” Seifer muttered under his breath; feeling strangely better, he left.

- - -

Stay tuned for Chapter Two, in which Seifer sends a series of terrible and profane postcards, Zell abuses muffins, Irvine actually wears a normal outfit, and chemistry rears its very unexpected head...

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brokenprism

June 2011

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