The Devil's Own
Chapter 3: When Worlds Collide
By Angry Angel
He had never much liked trains, really. There was just something about them that irritated the heck out of him – aside from the obvious aspects that there were:
First of all, they smelled (though Quistis took a habit in denying that vehemently), second of all, they rattled as if they were about to come undone into their individual parts at any given minute, and third of all they were usually infested with those dim oddballs that had nothing better to do than stand at the windows, block the alleyway and stare at the landscape flying by as if it was the greatest damned thing in the world.
His friend, Irvine Kinneas, was one of those oddballs.
During trips, the long haired brunette cowboy would usually stay glued to one chosen window outside their cabin, conducting strange monologues about love, the hardships of a sharpshooter and other weird things that Seifer really didn’t care to know any details about. It was bad enough to have Irvine look at him like some freak of nature when he'd pass him on his way to the lavatory, and hearing the sniper mutter something detached along the lines of "you get my drift?" definitely did not help that impression much.
Nope. Not really.
And so Seifer had had little choice but to stay inside their private cabin and sulk in silence over the more gruesome aspects of his fate. Quistis was with him, too, double and triple checking her gear as if there was a damned thing that she’d be able to do about anything that she’d left behind by mistake. She too would mumble incoherently, and it was getting more difficult to ignore her by the second.
Yup, the life of Seifer Almasy surely wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.
Overall, he really did like the two SeeDs in his squad though, even if his foul attitude might have suggested differently.
He had known Quistis and Irvine for the greater part of his life - ever since he had turned ten years old to be exact - and they were pretty companionable once you got to know them. Yup, really. It merely took a fair amount of intestinal fortitude to get used to their unnerving quirks. Quistis’ obsessive correctness and Irvine’s random fits of childishness or his Casanova impersonations could be scary at times, but aside from that they were both pretty harmless, and they were good friends, after all. Without them and his other two close buddies, Fujin and Raijin, Seifer probably would have whacked out entirely after that particular Dollet incident, which had rendered him something like a celebrity.
Alas, in the end, he hadn't whacked out any more than anyone else would have done in a comparable situation, which seemed to have somehow disappointed his critics. In fact, Seifer was still quite sane, though it was obvious that some would always disagree.
But hey, what did they know, anyway?
Either way, he could currently be found propped up on their cabin’s couch, flipping through some old battle series magazines with an expression of fashionable boredom plastered across his angular features. Every now and then, he would subconsciously massage the back of his nose, but he never really paid any attention to the wry scar that was etched into the tanned surface of his skin. He wasn’t usually the type to be getting headaches, though the tightly wired tension behind his forehead belied that statement without much effort.
On top of that, it was also becoming seriously annoying.
"Hey, Quisty," he finally huffed and glanced at his friend, "D’ya bring some aspirin?"
She looked up at him from her duffle bag, cocking her head to the side ever so slightly and adjusting the position of her glasses on her nose.
"Why?" she asked. "Do you have a headache?"
"No, I’m on my period," he rolled his jade green eyes. "Can I have a hug?"
The blonde girl slanted her aristocratic features at the sarcastic remark, but she begun rooting through the pockets of her bag all the same. Finally, she produced a small, red plastic bottle that she tossed him in a steep arch, and it landed in his lap with a clattering sound.
"Thanks, sweets," he purred, before uncapping the lid and dry-swallowing a couple of the firm white tablets.
The bottle disappeared once more in the vast depths of Quistis’ bag after Seifer had returned it to her, and both SeeDs pretty much spent the rest of their trip caught up in comfortable silence. Seifer tried to focus on the mission that lay ahead of them, but as he wasn’t one to typically take medicine unless it was forced down his throat, the aspirin messed with his concentration quite a bit – or so he liked to tell himself, anyway, instead of simply blaming his drowsiness on having spent the greater part of the night hacking away at grats in Balamb Garden’s training hall.
In the end, he actually took much pride in the fact that he hadn’t fallen asleep once throughout the entire four hours of their ride, if only thanks to Quistis’ constant ruckus. He was relieved when their train finally boarded at the station, and he was able to step out of the confinement of their cabin and into the sunshine and the fresh breeze of a nice April afternoon.
Around them, Timber station was buzzing and whirring with a broad array of sounds; chimes of whistles, the cries of children, locals picking up their loved ones and informative announcements bleared from loudspeakers that hovered in way too close proximity to their ears.
As Seifer was still debating whether or not he was inclined to lighting himself a cigarette, he could feel his headache returning, which ultimately resulted in his decision careening towards the non-smoker in him.
"Let’s go," he ordered with a sigh.
He slung his bag across his shoulder, and the two SeeDs at his side followed his example quickly.
The air was surprisingly warm, and Seifer made a mental note to take off his trench coat and put on a short sleeved shirt as soon as they’d reach the Timber Hotel. According to Quistis’ notes, headquarters had reserved two rooms there for their overnight stay, due to the misfortune of the next Deling City bound train not leaving until the following day.
They rarely ever lingered in Timber for any longer than a few minutes during their trips, and Seifer had almost forgotten (or repressed, more like it) what the town looked like. Usually, they’d move right on to D.C. (formerly known as Galbadia City and abbreviated whenever possible because Seifer hated to vocalize Deling’s name), rent a car or simply travel by airship in the first place, but apparently the SeeD committee had decided to turn stingy on them and merely hooked them up with three train tickets and a stay at the local Inn.
‘Told ya. Things are all going downhill, mark my words.’
He heaved a mute sigh at the stale memory of things that had come to pass ever since the shift of power in their line of command and at the prospect of the things that were still bound to happen, but quite frankly there wasn’t a whole lot that he’d be able to do about either. That was saying quite a bit, too, considering that he was the son of General Erick Almasy - one of the three heads that made up the SeeD committee these days.
But, believe it or not, that little gem of family connection right there had never sacked him any special treatment.
"Eh. When are we leaving again?" Irvine suddenly interrupted his musings.
Judging by the whiny edge to the brunette's voice, Irvine was about as thrilled about their overnight stay in that hillbilly freak town as Seifer was. It was understandable, too, as there wasn’t much to be found in Timber aside from a few tiny shops, a sleazy bar (which happened to serve food, too), the local newspaper office, the TV station and, well, the hotel.
Oh yeah, and the trains. Lots of trains.
‘Yes, and let me emphasize this - I HATE trains.’
"We’re leaving in the morning, 9:00," he could hear Quistis reply to the cowboy's inquiry. "Not so bad. Pull yourselves together already. You guys are so whiny."
‘That’s Quisty, always looking out for us.’
"Thank Hyne," Irvine mumbled under his breath. "Let’s get to the hotel already, the sun’s frying my brain even through my hat!"
Oh, and that comment was just begging for an Almasy editorial.
"Like that’d be a big loss."
Yup, it couldn't be helped.
"Tch. Go soak your head, greaseman!"
Grinning like a predator, Seifer vainly raked his hands through his carefully gelled back tresses in his best impression of a pretty boy. Then, he flicked up his right middle finger to flip Irvine the bird, who gladly reciprocated the honors whilst cackling with glee.
"Gosh, you two are worse than the ten year old cadets," Quistis groaned in exasperation, while adjusting the position of her bag on her shoulder.
"I’ll take that as a compliment," her blonde companion merely shrugged and purposely jerked Irvine's hat into the brunette's face. "After all, we worked so hard on becoming this annoying."
"Let’s go, before she ends up blowing her blood vessels or something," Irvine hissed into Seifer’s ear, after he had pushed his stetson back into position. "She's got that look again."
"Hey! I heard that!"
They continued on their way snickering like kids that had just hit puberty, rather than the respectable SeeD officers that they were, and in the careless joy of the moment Seifer had almost forgotten all about his foul mood.
That was, until they had reached and entered the hotel lobby, and he was greeted by the zealous tchoo-tchoo of a model steam railway that Seifer had thus far done well at ruling out from his memory of previous stays at the Timber Hotel.
"What is it with these freaks," he growled, while (unsuccessfully) trying to glare the model set to shreds. "It’s like their entire life consists of nothing but trains, trains, trains. Next thing you know you’ll find yourself on a train wrought shitter!"
"Seifer!" Quistis cried in revolt over his not-so-classy choice of words.
"What?" he shrugged. "You know I’m right, no use denying it."
"That’s not the point," she frowned. "You’ve gotta conduct yourself in public. Someone could have heard you."
"See what I care."
'Damn, she sure has a way of grinding out my name. How long did she have to practise for that one, I wonder? She seriously needs a boyfriend to pull that stick outta her ass.'
He heaved a deep sigh of frustration, dropping his weighty bag onto the floor with a thud and throwing his arms to the side in half-mock, half-serious outrage.
"Look, there’s nobody here, anyway!" he illustrated. "This place is dead. Hell, it’s deader than dead, it’s-"
He had actually meant to finish that sentence, but he was curtly interrupted in his ranting as someone, or something, slammed into his shoulder from behind in a rather crude and unexpected fashion. There hadn’t been too much force behind the impact, but it managed to unsettle him in his precious balance nonetheless, and unsettling Seifer was not a good idea on the best of days.
He took a sharp half-step forward and pivoted on the spot, his jade green gaze aflare with short-tempered rage. Whoever had just bumped into him better be down on their knees in prostration, or else they'd be in for an ugly surprise. He was a bloody SeeD after all, not some cheap piece of furniture that one could just randomly crash into, and he was all too ready to emphasize his point by volume and by action.
And thus, he collected his breath for a rather nasty outburst of emotions that he had never spent much effort into concealing.
"Hey, you fucking freshwater hick," he hissed, "How about you-"
But once again, Seifer's words would merely stake in his throat after his sight had levelled with the "freshwater hick" that had dared to charge into him so boldly.
At first, he thought that he was staring straight into a wall of ice. A little later on, he identified it as a pair of cold blue eyes rather than a mass of glaciers, but nonetheless his first impression never quite left him. Those eyes were set into a face that had been tipped up to meet his own, and which managed to knock the wind out of Seifer's body in the matter of an instant.
Rarely before, if ever, had the Garden Commander seen features that were so clearly and yet so vaguely slanted downwards in a scowl, whilst all the time retaining a look of utmost indifference. That kid was gazing back at him from behind askew strands of dark brown hair and coal black lashes, and his crimson hued lips had been crushed to a thin wry line to compliment the darkest of frowns that Seifer had ever laid his eyes upon.
Mentally, he did have to correct his first impression of a ‘kid’, though. That guy standing before him like the human incarnation of Shiva appeared to be about his age, perhaps a little younger, and there was something so dark and frosty about his aura that it sent a chill down Seifer’s spine. The blonde had seen Zombies sporting friendlier expressions, even if, on second notion, the brunette was actually quite attractive.
Well, as attractive as one can be when trying to freeze hell over with a single glance, anyway.
Aside from that abstract round-up of the boy's looks, Seifer's mind was pretty much empty. While he would merely gape at his brunette opposite, the stranger lowered his brows, and Seifer saw how his narrow nose crinkled a little – probably because it had made such rough contact with the blonde’s shoulder blade.
Then, something else caught the SeeD’s interest; something that he hadn't noticed before, probably due to being distracted by the youth’s almost too feminine features and the odd contrast that they sought to those damned arctic eyes.
Not just any scar, either – instead, a scar that was much, much too similar to the one that already graced his own forehead.
At second glimpse, Seifer wasn’t really so sure anymore whether said scar was really all that similar to his, since something definitely seemed to be off about it, but a certain familiarity couldn’t be denied, either way.
It was interesting, to say the least, and it stirred something within the blonde that he couldn't quite explain.
Finally, Seifer had succeeded in regaining at least fractions of his stoic cool, but before he could have put them to use by starting into an angry tirade once more, the stranger yet again surprised him.
The brunette shrugged very softly underneath his tight black shirt, a movement that was hardly noticeable in its tiny upturn of one shoulder, before he shifted in his stance and calmly turned away.
Had it been physically possible, Seifer probably would have looked even more taken aback than he already had to begin with. Flapping his mouth with mute words that wouldn’t quite come to him, he had to watch how his opposite ignored him and trudged over to the hotel desk to exchange some quiet sentences with the reception clerk.
Next to Seifer, Irvine finally cleared his throat and nudged his friend into the side.
"Yo, Seif," he mumbled. "You’re staring."
That was enough information to pound at least some sort of sense into the blonde, and he drew a rasp breath that gave away his irritation.
"Bite me, Kinneas."
He crossed his arms before his broad chest with a venomous snarl, now resuming in his typical personification of utter menace and intimidation.
Come hell or high water, he was going to teach that little 'look-at-me-and-I-will-turn-you-into-an-icicle' prick of a hillbilly how to conduct himself around a SeeD officer.
The brunette, however, didn’t seem all that impressed. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t even heeding Seifer with a single glance.
"The fuck is his problem?" Seifer growled darkly, while glaring daggers at his object of aggression from behind.
"What do you mean?"
Seifer had no chance to reply to Quistis’ curious question, as the dark haired stranger had finally turned away from the clerk and walked back into their general direction – or the direction of the exit, for that matter.
The harsh outcry caught the youth’s attention at last, but his hard features still couldn’t be bothered to smooth into anything but a bored frown. His slate blue eyes met with Seifer’s peridot ones, but little more emotion was to be read in those arcane oculates. In fact, zilch was probably more like it.
"I’m talking to you."
Yet another statement that didn’t exactly seem to pique the dark haired guy’s interest, nor appeared to unsettle him at least a little bit. He was slightly shorter in height than Seifer, and quite more fragile in his built, but apparently the blonde across from him still didn't rank very high on his personal list of possible threats.
Well, Seifer was definitely planning on rectifying that.
Arching his thin dark eyebrows, the brunette eventually buried his hands inside his pockets and sucked in a quiet breath.
Seifer was almost astounded to finally receive an answer of sorts, and he made sure to dole out an extra strong dose of his famous and intimidating Almasy-glare, if only to try and ensure that the Timber runt wouldn't fall back into the silent pattern right away.
"How about an apology?" he snarled.
Now, the stranger was considering him with a look that suggested serious skepticism over his sanity, but yet again he gave a supple shrug.
His voice had been equally lazy and indifferent, and much to Seifer’s dismay he made no attempt at using it to actually utter an apology, or anything else for that matter. He merely utilized his arctic glare to root Seifer to the spot for a lack of more interesting things to do, and then he waited.
As soon as it dawned Seifer just what exactly that guy was waiting for, his tanned complexion kindled with a furious shade of crimson.
"Not from me, you idiot!!" he snapped like a hungry pitbull. "You were the one that bumped into me like a dumb klutz! Not my fault if you can’t watch where you’re going! I ain’t apologizing to you! Forget it! No fucking way!"
Oddly enough, the dark haired guy seemed to have found some strange form of amusement in those hasty and seethed outcries, and his lips curled into the semblance of a very cunning smile.
"If you insist. Apology accepted."
And with that, he coolly pushed past the small group of SeeDs to vanish through the sliding doors and out of sight, leaving behind a dumbfounded Garden Commander and his two friends that had never quite seen Seifer Almasy get his case handed to him with that much slack elegance.
Needless to say, the blonde was fuming.
=To be continued!=
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