The Devil's Own

Chapter 4: Careless

By Angry Angel

"I am a question to the world
Not an answer to be heard
Or a moment that's held in your arms."

 

"That fucking little--! Who does he think he--?! I'm gonna-- Argh!! Get back here!! I'm gonna kick your skinny little--"

It had taken a few seconds for Seifer to regain his shattered composure, but when the capability to speak returned to him at last, it also returned with a blaring intensity that caused Irvine to pull his cowboy hat lower into his face in the vain hope of covering his ears.

Quistis, on the other hand, seized Seifer's upper arm firmly, obviously for the purpose of rooting him to the spot and keeping him from just charging after the brunette stranger. She also considered using a Stop or a Silence spell on her friend, but she knew well enough that Seifer would've taken great offense to that, and more likely than not he would have been beyond all bearing for the rest of the year or so. He wasn't exactly known to be very forgiving in nature.

Hence, she decided on settling this the old fashioned way.

"Seifer, calm down," she tried to soothe him, though she also couldn't quite suppress a wry grin. "He's just some kid, let him go. You're better than this. Don't waste your breath."

Of course, Quistis too had felt the strange tension that had echoed between the two young men, but if she would've wanted to keep track of every single run-in that Seifer had ever had with random villagers, she would have had to keep a logbook. Dropping the matter really seemed like the more intelligent thing to do.

Unfortunately, Seifer seemed to disagree.

The blonde SeeD swiped his arm out of Quistis' grasp and left his duffel bag strung in the middle of the hallway without minding who might trip over it next. Then, he marched up to the clerk's desk with a face that advised to proceed into any conversation with the blonde with much, much caution.

"Hey, you, I need some info," Seifer demanded hotly and slammed his hands down upon the mahogany surface of the reception desk.

The redheaded middle aged man behind the counter cringed ever so slightly, but he devoted earnest effort into retaining his friendly, professionally distant expression, despite the fact that his skin had paled a shade or two.

"Ah-h, of course, that's what I'm here for, Sir."

He took a steep bow, or as steep as the counter between them would allow, and his lips phased into a feeble smile that was twitching at the corners of his mouth.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Seifer dismissed the man's politeness with an impatient wave. "Who was that guy that just left?"

Entirely overwhelmed by his guest's aggression, the clerk actually had to ponder that question for a moment before his face lit up with recognition.

"That... Oh! You mean Squall?"

He really should have expected that green eyed monster to swipe out at him with a vicious snarl, but he was stunned and shaken all the same.

Where was that panic button again?

"I don't know if I mean whats-his-face, his name wasn't stapled to his fucking forehead!" Seifer hissed coldly. "If it was, do you really think I'd be asking you?"

"N-no, of course not. My apologies, Mister...?"

"Almasy," the nineteen year-old growled in flaring exasperation.

There were still people who didn't know his name, shoe size, breakfast habits and every tiny, unimportant bit of his life story the moment that they'd seen his face?

Astounding.

"Mr. Almasy, yes. I presume that you're referring to Squall Leonhart. He was the one that just stopped by my desk."

"And who is he?" Seifer inquired further, while his brain worked on churning through the scarce bits of information that it had received thus far.

Squall Leonhart, huh? That was a pretty stupid name, he decided. Who ever would've wanted to be named after a windy fancy of nature and a stinking, furry animal?

Squall. Squally. Squally-wally. Tch.

Still, there was something that was odd about it, though Seifer couldn't exactly place his finger on the impression. He couldn't recall to ever have heard the name before, but it rang a bell nonetheless. Though... a very small bell at that.

"Squall, hm..." the man started, while scratching his chin in thought. "Well, he's a local. His sister, Miss Ellone, is the manager of our establishment. I don't really know Squall very well, he's not a very... social type of person... but I believe he works as a reporter for the Timber Maniacs, our newspaper. If you'd like, we have copies in-"

"Not really."

"Oh. Right."

"Hey, Seifer," a stern female voice suddenly interrupted from behind the blonde. "Just drop it already, will you?"

Impatiently, Quistis brushed past her friend and slapped the fax paper with the room reservation confirmation on the desk.

"Excuse my partner's temper. Must be the sun, it's burning down quite intensely these days," she smiled sweetly, not paying any attention to the deadly glint that came alight in Seifer's eyes. "We're SeeDs from Balamb Garden, and we have pending reservations for two rooms for tonight. The names are Quistis Trepe, Irvine Kinneas and Seifer Almasy."

"Oh!"

The man's face stretched into a broad smile that left little room to ponder the question of whether or not he had come across at least one of those names before.

He had.

"You're the Almasy! I wasn't entirely sure. My dearest apologies! Is there anything else I can be of service with?"

Before Seifer could have opened his mouth in order to herald another round of nosy questions concerning that guy Leonhart's person, Quistis silenced him efficiently by digging the sharp heel of her knee-high boots into the sensitive, leather-clad top of his left foot.

"Ow!! Damn, Quisty, what the fuck?!"

Well, perhaps not so efficient after all.

"Nothing, thank you," she replied blithely to the clerk's question, while ignoring Seifer's reproachful look. "Just the keys, please."

"Sure. I'll check for your room numbers right away, Miss Trepe. Just a moment, please."

"Thank you."

Next to her, Seifer was still groaning like a wounded animal, but she rolled her eyes at him mercilessly and placed her hands on her narrow hips. She looked exceptionally menacing when assuming that pose, and she was fully aware of it, too.

"What's gotten into you?" she snapped. "You can't just prance around and interrogate people like that!"

"I wasn't 'interrogating'," her companion drawled, while flexing his bruised toes inside his boot. "Just asking some questions."

"Well, stop that. It's really rude. Go get Irvy and our bags, you know, do something productive?"

"Yes, grand Mistress," he derided with a bitter frown, but he did indeed turn around and trudged towards the door to collect his own bag as well as Quistis', which had been placed neatly off to the side.

Irvine was still lingering in the same spot, his azure eyes sparkling with something that Seifer didn't much like and that he could only identify as amused curiosity.

"So?" Irvine beamed.

"So what?" he grunted.

"D'ya have his address so we can go beat the seven shades of blue outta him?" the cowboy asked, while performing a queer punching movement with his right fist.

It really was a good thing that Irvine's weapon of choice was an Exeter sniper rifle, because the most he would've ever erected from their enemies with his "skills" in martial arts would've been some hearty laughter.

"Very funny, Kinneas."

"Rats. I'll take that as a no."

"Your infinite wisdom never ceases to amaze me."

"I know. I'm special."

"Good for you. Now how about you pack up your shit and follow me, wisecrack?"

"Aye, Sir," Irvine offered with a crisp salute. "By the way, about that guy..."

"What about him?" Seifer sighed.

"I didn't know you were into brunettes. I'll have to be on my guard tonight."

"Why don't you just drop dead, Kinneas?"

By the time that they had made it back to the desk through their constant bickering, Quistis was already impatiently waving two golden key chains in front of their faces. She did try to conceal the fact that the chains were shaped in the forms of steam locomotives, but of course that was a rather futile venture as she was bound to hand at least one of them over to the guys.

Strangely enough though, Seifer didn't blow any fuses at the sight. Quite contrary, he seemed much entangled in his thoughts, which was a very rare sight when Seifer was concerned.

"Seif, are you okay?" Quistis finally asked. "I didn't mean to hurt your foot or anything."

"What?" Seifer's head snapped up, and he met her concerned gaze with rather blank green eyes. "Oh. Nah."

He handed the frowning blonde her bag, and he snatched a key from her without actually looking at it once.

"Room 21. Second floor, you two," she explained. "I'm in room 19, first floor."

"Bah," Irvine huffed. "Of course, we have to hurl our stuff all the way up there. I remember well why we haven't been to this place in years."

Quistis smiled evilly, an expression that was rather unfamiliar to her stern features.

"So sorry, dear. But hey, it'll build muscles, or at least it'll build character."

"Oh, you just make fun of me," Irvine growled, while jabbing his thumb in the general direction of Seifer. "You don't have to room with him. He snores and he farts, sometimes even simultaneously!"

Much to Irvine's disappointment, Seifer didn't respond to the insult with one of his typical, sly remarks. The cowboy exchanged confused looks with Quistis, who merely gave a helpless shrug. Comprehending their brusque friend had never been either of their strengths, and Seifer usually chose not to elaborate on his moods, short of a sarcastic comment, of course.

Hence, they couldn't exactly do much but follow the blonde's lead past the hotel's fancy (and completely pointless) railway crossing gate and up the stairs, only to part on the first floor.

"I'll meet you in the lobby in a few," Quistis waved them off. "We should get some dinner or something."

"Good idea, I'm starving. What about you, Seif?"

"Hrmph? Yeah."

"Oh Hyne, it grunts! Amazing! Quisty, take a picture!"

Again, the blonde SeeD didn't heed his brunette companion with the smallest of replies, and it begun to slightly worry the latter. What the heck was wrong with Seifer?

While Quistis vanished somewhere in a hallway, the two men pushed further up the stairway and all across the second floor, until they had finally found room number 21. Seifer opened the door with a click of the lock, and they entered a small suite that was bright and friendly in nature and even showed off a little balcony. One wall was decorated with an intricate technical design of metal, lamps and wires, and of course it had a railway theme going just like the rest of the hotel did.

"Look, Seifer." Irvine tried again. "Trains."

But Seifer merely considered him with a vague wave of his hand, before dropping his duffel bag next to one of the beds and flopping down upon the mattress heavily. Absent-mindedly, he shook a cigarette out a pack that he produced from the pocket of his coat, and he lit it without paying any heed to the fact that there was no ash tray around. Then he swiped his legs off the ground and placed them on the bed, dirty boots and everything.

Deep down, Irvine heaved a sigh of despair.

"Yo, Seif. Tell me something."

The cowboy arranged himself at the foot of Seifer's bed, tipping his hat into his neck a bit to fix his friend with an intent look out of cerulean blue eyes. The blonde glanced back at him lazily, every now and then parting his lips to suck smoke from his cigarette and whiff it back out through his nose coolly.

"Tell you what?"

"Why you're so upset over that brat from earlier."

Seifer furrowed his handsome face into lopsided wrinkles, and he breathed a single snort of laughter.

"Who says I'm upset?"

"You look it."

"Maybe I'm just sick of seeing your ugly face?"

"Oh, I see how it is. Well, I can go out and look for frosty boy, then you can room with him and we'll all be happy campers. Problem solved."

"Right. Or I can just throw your ass off the balcony. Problem solved."

"Yech. Why am I even trying?"

Grumbling under his breath, Irvine decided to leave Seifer to his sulk and rooted through his bag instead, searching for a fresh amethyst hued shirt that he knew accentuated the color of his eyes. After all, there were ladies in this town, and he figured that if they'd really go out for dinner to the local bar, he might as well use the opportunity to check out the local "goods".

"You coming to dinner?" he asked in a muffled voice, while yanking the shirt over his head after he had worked his way out of his dirty one.

"Nah."

"Really? You sure? You haven't had anything to eat since lunchtime."

"Positive."

"Mind if I ask why?"

"Yep, I do."

"Aww, man. You're breaking my heart here, Seif."

That comment did steal a smirk from Seifer's lips, and while the blonde flicked his ash to the stretch of floor between their beds, Irvine studied him very carefully.

Seifer wasn't one to brood, he never had been, yet brooding was exactly what he was currently doing. It was surprising enough that he wasn't still raging over what had happened; usually, his temper was lethal once aroused, and it wasn't easily soothed, either. Right now, though, the blonde's reflection was that of dark melancholy rather than that of dire fury, and Irvine found that to be very unsettling.

Still, something told him that he wasn't going to receive an explanation for this quake in Seifer's behaviour, no matter just how dearly he'd pry.

"Alright then," he gave in. "Quisty and I will be at the bar. If you change your mind, you know where to find us."

"U-hu."

"So long then, buddy! I'm off to ride into the sunset."

"Laters," the blonde in bed chuckled, "Freak."

Irvine sure was queer as folk.

As soon as the cowboy had left the room, though, Seifer's features snapped back into the same frown that had been shading his face ever since Irvine's "I didn't know you were into brunettes"-comment. Seifer couldn't even quite say what bothered him so much about that joke. He had never made a secret of the fact that he took a liking to both guys and girls alike, but it still irritated him that anyone could possibly believe that he had found the slate-eyed stranger named Squall attractive.

Well, he had found him attractive, but that was really beside the point.

Quite frankly, even if he would've felt inclined to respond to Irvine's earlier questions, he wouldn't have known how to go about it. He had no idea at all why he was upset, or why he couldn't stop pondering about his odd encounter with Squall-whoever-Leonhart.

Seriously, the kid hadn't been all that, and even if he had been, what sort of difference would it have made in the first place? All in all, the brunette had looked about as enticing as a couple of frost boils.

And still...

Hm.

Quietly, Seifer stared at the cigarette stub that he held loosely between his right middle- and index finger, and at its ash that was glinting faintly in a soft, orange light.

He really didn't like this.

Regardless of how interesting or pretty the brunette had essentially been, this just wasn't right. It shouldn't concern him a pinch how some stranger had looked at him, nor should it matter in the least what sort of stupid scar the guy had carried. Seifer had never seen the boy before, and chances were, he was also never going to see him again. Squall Leonhart was just another random run-in, one nobody out of many, so who even gave a fuck?

"..."

He didn't like the answer to that question, either.

In fact, he didn't like it at all.

Groaning, he snapped into an upright position and stood up from his bed in one fluid motion. Carelessly, he tossed the cigarette butt into one of the tin trash containers, shrugged out of his trench coat and moved to stand by the balcony for a while. When he passed one of the tables in their room, though, he halted in his steps.

"Well, well, well. What do we have here?"

Arching his golden eyebrows in mild interest, he gazed upon the glossy cover of a magazine that read "Timber Maniacs" in bright red letters. Seifer couldn't help but recall what the hotel clerk had mentioned about Squall Leonhart's occupation, and he picked up the magazine with a repulsive look on his face. Honestly, the last thing he felt like doing was to sit down and read this hick town's newspaper.

... As usual, his curiosity got the better of him.

Thus, he sank into one of the armchairs that had been placed around the table, and he begun flipping through the Timber Maniacs' pages carelessly. There wasn't anything that actually looked noteworthy to him, and he was already about to ditch the paper for the sake of finding something more interesting to do, when his attention was suddenly snared by a fairly long article that came along with a large, colored picture.

Cocking his head aside and leaning back in his chair, Seifer raised the page closer to his eyes. The image showed a skinny brunette teen sitting at a table with an important looking man in a pinstriped suit, and though the dark haired guy was wearing a baseball cap that was pulled low into his face, Seifer could still identify him as Mr. Grumpy Ass Leonhart. He actually knew the other man, too. Unless he was seriously mistaken, it was Timber's mayor Melvin Carter.

With piqued interest, Seifer now glanced at the article itself, which had been titled "Independence At Last?".

"Independence?" he chortled in amusement. "Independence my ass."

As Seifer had already been expecting, the article was centered about the ever on-going discussion over Timber's independence from the empire of Galbadia. Of course, said discussions were nothing but a "big pile of bullshit", as the blonde liked to call it. It was foolish to believe that a city like Timber needed independency, and everyone except for the members of the local resistance factions understood that Timber would never be able to break from Galbadia, no matter how earnestly they'd try. The town was way too small, had no control over a militia, and it was simply too important of a reloading point for the empire to lose.

Still, according to this particular article that had been written by a journalist named "[S.L.]" (which Seifer could only guess to mean Squall Leonhart), mayor Carter was in the midst of heavy negotiations with Vinzer Deling himself.

"Now, dear Squally, either you're a liar like most of your trade, or you're just really fucking stupid," Seifer mused, while skimming over the lines and glancing back at the picture every now and then.

It was most obvious that President Deling currently (and always) had much better things to do than sit down with Carter and discuss such trivial matters as the improbable independence of Timber. Hence, it was pretty safe to assume that either Leonhart or Carter had made the story up, and though the idea didn't bother Seifer all too much, it certainly did cause him to wonder yet again what type of person that Squall guy actually was.

Something about the brunette had struck him as very deceptive from the beginning, and he seriously found himself debating whether the youth was really na´ve enough to believe in liberty for his home town. In the end, Seifer came to the conclusion that Leonhart was most likely only trying bring his silly story to market by all means necessary.

Typical reporter scum.

"Oh well. Like I care."

Shrugging, Seifer flicked the magazine back onto the table. He definitely had no deeper interest in either this paper boy or his ambitions, whichever they might be. Should the kid make up as many cock-and-bull stories as he wanted, the heck with him, Seifer had plenty of other things to get himself worked up over if he'd ever feel the inclination to do so.

That said, he suddenly realized that despite what he had told Irvine a little while ago, he was starting to feel sort of hungry, which was no real surprise considering that he hadn't eaten anything in over four hours. The prospect of a hale and hearty dinner with his friends was distinctly more appealing than the concept of more brooding and pondering. Hence, he forced himself to squash any notion concerning that Leonhart kid and lightly leaped upon his feet.

Since it was still light and warm outside, he decided against putting on his trench coat, but he didn't change out of his long-sleeved black shirt as he had originally planned to. It wasn't like he'd be staying out all that long, anyway.

Thus, he snatched his wallet and the key that Irvine had left behind, wasted a few seconds on a quick glance into the mirror in their bathroom and finally left their room without spending another thought on the Timber Maniacs or Squall who-the-hell-ever Leonhart.

Yep. He didn't care at all.

 

 

=To be continued!=

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