Touchless Car Wash
Squall Leonheart had a headache. A massive, face-breaking, tooth-aching, time compression sized headache. A headache that was five foot three inches tall in a violently yellow sundress, and standing directly in the door of his office, blocking his path.
"Heya there, Commander!" the headache said, with a measure of pep utterly indecent at 0700 hours without even one cup of coffee behind it. "Got a sec? I had this idea--"
"No," Squall said.
"Aww, you didn't even think about it!"
"All right." Squall paused for one carefully measured span of seconds, and then he said, "I've thought about it. No, Selphie." He took a step towards his office door, but Selphie shunted to the side, bracing her hand on the doorframe and wearing an expression of fixed, cheerful determination.
"You haven't even heard what it is, yet."
"After your last idea about hosting a co-ed pool party in the Garden fountains? I don't think I have to." Squall tried to get by her to the opposite side of the door, but the handle of Crescent Wish shot out from Selphie's hand, catching him neatly across the abdomen as he tried to lunge forward. Squall staggered back, momentarily winded and unable to speak. If he hadn't been filled with utter annoyed loathing at that second, he would have been impressed.
"This is better," Selphie said, smiling sweetly. "Much much much better. And it's to raise money for the Garden Festival!" Squall managed a soft wheeze as he tried to get his diaphragm working again. Taking this for encouragement, Selphie barreled on. "Are you ready for this? The Garden Festival Committee's First Annual Car Wash!"
Squall's first, hard-won words were ones of grammatical irritation. "How can you have a first annual something?" he snarled. "If it is the first one, it is not yet annual."
"I'm optimistic," Selphie retorted. "But Quisty said the same thing. Sooo okay, we'll take out the annual bit. Thanks for the feedback, Squall! It's this Saturday so be there or be booyaka'd!"
"I never said you could--" Squall began, but it was too late. Selphie was already on her way down the hall, a small, yellow juggernaut of extra-curricular disaster. Massaging his bruised abdomen, Squall finally made it into his office, where he spent the morning contemplating just what it meant to be booyaka'd, and if that was better or worse than spending his day off wrangling a water hose for the amusement of his command.
His hopes of laying low until the thing was over were dashed the moment he made it back to his quarters. His closet door was open, drawers yanked out in a staggered tier, and Zell was contemplating the contents of his boyfriend's wardrobe with something like grim resignation.
"Seriously," he said, holding up one of seven identical gray v-necked t-shirts, "Do you not have a single pair of swim trunks?"
"Oh, god," Squall said, dumping the day's paperwork onto his desk. "Selphie's already infected you."
"You don't even have any shorts," Zell said, throwing aside the shirt and pawing through Squall's once-tidy underwear drawer. "And the one pair of blue jeans you have are like three inches too long and full of holes--"
"I have a pair of blue jeans?" Squall repeated, incredulous.
"They were under everything else." Zell held up the damning evidence, and Squall felt his stomach shift uncomfortably. "Those aren't mine," he said, and refused to elaborate.
"Well, they'll do for the car wash," Zell said, flinging Seifer's jeans aside and adding an old Balamb G Athletics shirt on top of them. "But how you made it through swim class I'll never know..."
"I took swimming when I was a junior classman, my SeeD environmental obstacle exam required me to be in full uniform for the swimming portion, and there is no way in hell I'm going to the car wash." Squall began heaping his shirts back into the closet.
"Squall," Zell began, in what Squall knew full well was the start of the it's important for Garden morale speech, "It's important for you to--"
"Don't even say that I have to be there to prove that I'm invested in the Garden. I work my ass off every day for the Garden. I'm up to my neck in engineering negotiations with FH, I don't have time to attend Selphie's Splashy Soiree just to prove that--"
"Squall," Zell said again, his tone enough to halt Squall's further protests, "If you don't come, Irvine's threatened to fuck me over the soaped-up hood of Cid's '37 Midgar Mirage."
Squall's left eyelid fluttered with a faint, persistent twitch. "...What time does this thing start?"
Saturday dawned sunny, blazing hot, and with a festival atmosphere. The fact that Balamb itself probably had a grand total of eighteen cars was no deterrent, as half the student body turned out to show itself off and waste as much water as possible. By noon Quistis had already ordered six students home to put on more clothes, though Irvine had attempted to make a stand for equality by saying that the girls had every right to wear (or not wear) whatever was the most comfortable.
"If you keep harping about that, she's gonna make you put on a bikini top," Zell said, buffing the silver opera-singer hood ornament of the hotel owner's blue Jidoor sedan.
"Hey, I'd do it," Irvine said, watching a pair of students jiggle past, their drenched t-shirts plastered down to show off the bikinis Quistis had deemed too revealing.
"Is there anything you won't do?" Zell asked, waving at the hotel owner as he drove off, car sparkling.
"Not his students, unless he wants to be put on probation." Squall plucked the hotel owner's donation from Zell's hand, stuffing it into the back pocket of his jeans. He had avoided any actual car-cleaning duties by declaring himself treasurer, and of them, he was the only one still dry.
"Yeah, again," Zell added, and bent over to pick up his sponge. Zell had not bothered with a shirt, his jeans rode low, and Irvine's eyes slid sideways to admire the view of Quezacotl's tattooed tailfeathers going all the way down to the base of Zell's spine.
A cold blast of air sliced through the summer morning, crackling in the haze of moisture. "And not that, either, Kinneas," Squall warned, his fingertips still outstretched with Shiva's ice crystals dancing around them.
"Sheeze!" Irvine had excellent reflexes, by merit of long practice, but he had barely dodged the spell. His eyebrows were rimed with frost, the water hose in his hand spurted out one fantastic sparkling icicle. "Can't a guy look, for the love of Ramuh?" Irvine whacked the frozen-over water hose against the pedestals of the gate dragons, and pent-up water burst out in a wild spray. "I'm not the only one ogling, either. Here comes your fangirl, Zell."
Zell stood up again as a car pulled up into the front drive of the Garden, and he groaned. "Oh, man, not again. That's the fourth time this morning! Is she renting these things?"
Squall arched an eyebrow at the girl from the library, waving at Zell from the window of a pale green Gainsborough coupe. An hour ago, she'd been driving a red Ultima. "Back again?" he asked.
"Oh, it's a favor for the guy at the rental shop," she said, looking right past Squall to the object of her affections, and his truly impressive shoulders. "Figured it's for a good cause, right?" She passed a wad of bills to Squall, who thumbed through it briskly and waved her over to the section of pavement next to Zell.
"Thanks for your support. Make sure to do a good job on the rims, Zell."
"Wait, what?" Irvine was flabbergasted, waving his dribbling water hose around until his hat was misted with a fine coat of moisture. "I cop a two-second glance and get blizzagaed, but little miss librarian gets carte blanche to have her rims done? Four times?"
"She pays for it," Squall said, tallying the thick fold of bills. "And she keeps her hands to herself, unlike some people I could mention."
"Of all the--" Irvine began, trying to sum up his indignation with a throttling motion of his water hose, which sadly came out entirely too suggestive and was interrupted almost at once by the bratty horn of an incoming car.
"That's a customer, Irvine," Squall prompted. "Let's see some service."
"Actually," Irvine said, with a smile that in no way could mean anything good, "I'm pretty sure this one's for you."
The horn blared again, and Squall's heart sank at the voice that followed it.
"Hey Leonfart! Whassa matter? Can't afford to pay the Garden's electricity bill?"
"Oh, fuck," Squall breathed, turning around to face the snarling grill of a '208 Dragoon LT convertible, in mythril silver, with a smug-faced Seifer Almasy behind the wheel. "What are you doing here?"
"I'd better be getting my car washed," Seifer said, and leaned back in his leather upholstery. "But don't go thanking me, it was the girls' idea."
"Girls," Squall intoned, numbly. Fuujin he had seen, sitting in the front seat like a dictator observing a military parade, but then there was a peal of giggles from the back seat and Rinoa leaned forward, draping her arms around Seifer's shoulders.
"Hi, Squall!" she said brightly, as though she had not dumped him, via a goddamn text message, barely two weeks after he had saved the world for her. "How've you been?"
I've been better, Squall thought, but shrugged his seeming indifference. "You know," he said, vaguely. "Whatever."
"That's your ex-girlfriend," Irvine said, unnecessarily gleeful.
"And those are my jeans," Seifer concluded. "But that's enough small talk. The car, if you would. And I expect a nice chamois buffing when you're done with the wax."
Rinoa leaned forward, whispering urgently to Fuujin, who nodded approval. "Affirmative," she said, and fixed Squall with one cold eye. "Donation, doubled. Condition, shirt."
"Can I have that with actual articles and verbs?" Squall growled, though he had a sneaking suspicion he already knew what he was in for.
"We'll pay double the donation," Rinoa said, beaming, "but only if Squall washes the car, and if he loses the shirt."
Only then did Squall notice the hush that had fallen over the Garden's front drive, and the warm prickle of dozens of eyes fixed attentively on their commander.
"Triple," Zell said, appearing suddenly behind Squall, soapy to the elbows and sponge still in hand. "And by triple, I mean triple our highest donation, which we got just now," he turned to wave at the Library girl as she drove off, "for 5000 gil. Too rich for you, Almasy?"
"Do you have to look at this car and ask that question?" Seifer said, reaching into his vest for his money clip. "C'mon, Commander, chop chop."
A dark swell of anger welled up in Squall's chest and dissipated, without warning, in the wake of an idea of such sweet vengeance it was enough to make Squall a believer in the divine. "All right," he said, with a shrug of indifference, and peeled out of his t-shirt to a swelling whoop of appreciation from the gathered observers. Even Seifer's eyebrows went up. Squall had never been a shirker in his training, but he was sleeping with Zell Dincht now, and he took things like his boyfriend's deltoids very, very seriously.
"Hold this, Kinneas." Squall bypassed Zell's outstretched hand and dropped his shirt into the hands of a startled Irvine. Had anyone been looking at Squall's face at that moment (which, it was safe to say, nobody was) they might have noticed the brief, tell-tale flash of para-magic light behind Squall's eyes as his fingers touched Irvine's. "Thanks."
Irvine blinked in half-second of confusion, then grinned. "Hey. No problem. Anytime."
Squall strolled to the front of Seifer's car, cracking his knuckles.
"Nice display," Seifer said, lounging back with his harem and thoroughly enjoying himself, "Now let's see some water works."
"You asked for it," Squall said, and allowed himself a tiny smile. As the rising hum of magic vibrated in the air around him, he had a split second to appreciate the blank shock on Seifer's face before the glistening curve of Leviathan's wave arched up out of nowhere and blotted out the sun.
"Don't you dare, you son of a bi--" Seifer began, rising up behind behind the wheel but unable to flee as a deluge of summoned water crashed down on him, and on his passengers, and on his lovely professional-leather-clean-only upholstery. A second later and the convertible was a swimming pool on wheels. Seifer's hair was plastered down like the fur of a Delling City sewer rat, and Rinoa spluttered for breath. Fuujin, for her part, was the only one with the sense to open her door and let the water out.
"How could you?" Rinoa cried, with a pout that would have been more winsome without her makeup running in black streaks down her face. "That's my summon!"
"You left it with me, and it's my summon now," Squall said, with grim pleasure. "Just like it's my ring, and my blue jeans, and my Garden, and my rules."
"Squall," Seifer snarled, rising. "I'm gonna hit you so hard you're gonna feel it on the other end of time compression."
"Oh?" Squall's eyes flashed, and from somewhere in the air came the faint, distorted notes of a harp. "But you haven't even had your rinse yet."
Siren's wave was less intimidating than Leviathan's, but no less wet. It washed over the car and left it sitting sideways in the drive, water spurting in thin streams from the doors.
"That's for insulting my mom," Squall finished, and retrieved his shirt from Irvine to the enthusiastic cheering of his command.
"I see my girl treated you all right," Irvine said, light flashing across his face as Squall returned his GF to him.
"She's not my type," Squall said, shrugging. "But she did the trick." He walked over to Seifer's car and leaned on the open driver's side door. "Car's washed. Pay up."
It was very obvious that Seifer had something to say to that, and probably several somethings, none of which were complimentary about the service. But Siren's wave had not only left several balamb fish flopping and gasping for air on Seifer's floorboards, it had also silenced the occupants, so that Seifer's rage and Rinoa's whining and Fuujin's laughter were only so much air.
"I think I like him better this way," Zell said, expertly dodging Seifer's swinging fist and scooping his money clip from his vest pocket. The bills were soggy, but still legal tender. "Thanks, Seifer! Now the Garden Festival can get that nice new stage, and the balloon net Selphie wanted, and maybe one of those dunking booths. You look like you've got plenty of experience, wanna volunteer?"
Seifer may have been mute but he was not paralyzed; air whistled as he aimed a punch at Zell's head and Zell, quite skilled in such things, made a point not to be there. Irvine was there instead, with the waterhose, and he was an able man when it came to anything with a trigger.
"All right, all right, move along," Irvine said, with a few well-punctuated bursts of the sprayer in the direction of Seifer's crotch. "I know the girls are cute and all, but we've got cars to wash, funds to raise. Thanks for stopping by! Y'all come on back!"
Zell's admirer from the library turned up then, in yet another car to be washed, and the peppy tap-tap of her horn at Seifer's bumper was the last straw. Sorceress' knight or no, Seifer Almasy knew defeat when he saw it. He squelched back down in his seat, cranked the engine, and retreated, leaving a trail of seaweed in his wake.
"Here," Squall said at the end of the afternoon, depositing the tallied gil in Selphie's festival fund box. "Funds are raised, now let's clean up this mess and get back to our real jobs."
"Omigawd we got so much money!" Selphie clutched the bills to her chest, and then held them back out again once she realized a good portion of the money was still soggy. "Do you know what this means?"
"Yes," Squall said. "I can finally get some dry pants on--"
"Hey, you didn't even do any of the washing!" Zell protested. "Well, except for Seifer, and that was awesome, but it doesn't count--"
"Used my GF anyway," Irvine put in.
"It means," Selphie continued, "that next weekend's bake sale is going to be a totally rockin' success! I've got you guys on cupcake detail, and I've got the cutest little hats for you to--"
"Irvine," Squall said, face in hand, "Please don't make me make it an order."
"Sorry Seifie," Irvine said, over the rising swell of harp music. "It's for your own good."
"You wouldn't!" Selphie began, though it was clear that Irvine would, and did, Siren's wings rising up behind him and drenching Selphie, indomitable hair and all. She might not have been able to speak, but the few curt gestures she made in her commander's direction did not need any translation.
"No," Squall said, "cupcakes."
"Hey, at least you were already wearing your swimsuit!" Zell called after her, as Selphie stomped off, dripping and mute, to get an echo screen out of the supply closet.
Squall, for his part, made a direct line towards his quarters to enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasted, and to take up the hem of his jeans. Seifer could have Rinoa if he wanted, but the jeans were pretty comfortable, and as far as Squall was concerned, he had gotten the better end of the deal.