The Devil's Own
Chapter 7: Hard Dawn
By Angry Angel
-- Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzzzzz! --
"Meh! Alright, alright, I'm coming! Be right there! Just a sec!"
Sighing mutely, Squall adjusted the position of his enormous duffel bag on his right shoulder. He was waiting calmly in front of a large, closed oak door from behind which a rather desperate voice had called out to his patience. At his back, the sun had already crept lazily across the horizon, streaking the sky with dazzling silver and dulcet pink. It was 8:30am sharp, and Squall had already been awake for, well, the greater part of the day.
On the other hand, he never had truly fallen asleep that night; too wound up over the upcoming events and his unsettling encounter with the SeeD Almasy, his mind and body had been unable to find rest. He had tossed and turned in his covers, jerking awake only minutes after sleep would finally take him over. It had been a rough night.
Under his breath, Squall sighed once more.
Saying good-bye to his sister been particularly difficult, too. Ellone hadn't said much, only looked at him with those sad eyes of her's and seen him off at the door, placing the usual quiet kiss upon his forehead. She had been devastated without a doubt, and could he really blame her?
Ellone had always been the one to take care of him — after all, he was the only family that she had - and though they were not actually related by blood, only few siblings were ever closer than Ellone and Squall. They had both grown up at the same orphanage, always sticking together like sister and brother should, and as soon as Ell had turned eighteen she had grabbed Squall and taken him to Timber, where they had been living together ever since.
Frowning and glaring at the sleek wood in front of him, the slender brunette began to wonder just why he was brooding so much these days. Granted, he had always been on the thoughtful side, but the past night and this morning had been downright ridiculous. You see, he didn't exactly like to think of his past and childhood much; though he had been treated very kindly by his matron, a woman named Edea Kramer, Squall could associate no truly happy memories with his young years at the orphanage.
Then again, how many "truly happy memories" did he actually have to begin with?
Once more, a bitter scowl littered his calm, snow pale features.
'Memories are just memories. Pictures of the past burned into our minds. That's all. They do nothing for us but haunt our present and make us doubt who we are. Memories... are useless.'
Squall almost jumped when the door in front of him suddenly swung wide open, emitting a disheveled figure that stumbled forward across the sill and into the street. The brunette managed to avoid the person only barely, and as he elegantly took a half-step backwards, his storm cloud colored eyes screened the frame of a boy that couldn't have been more unlike himself.
"Mm-hh! Umph... Squall! Yo!"
Panting heavily before Squall, his usually loud mouth stuffed with a huge homemade hot-dog, was a young spiky-haired blonde that was the brunette's best friend and fellow "Predator". He was seventeen years old, just like Squall, though he was far less cool and collected for his age.
"You're late, Zell," Squall stated icily.
After dropping the huge bag he had been clutching to his chest, Zell Dincht took a dry gulp of bread and sausage and pulled his handsome, tattoo-adorned features into an adorable frown. Squall had a way of drenching three little words with so much chill that even greater men than the blonde teen would wince at their mere sound. Luckily, Zell was all too used to the brunette's frigid temper, and he didn't think much of it anymore.
"But it's only 8:35!" he thus protested boldly. "The train doesn't leave for another 30 minutes!"
"We're picking up Selphie. I told you to be ready at 8:30," Squall informed him with a coldness that left little room for arguments.
Sighing in defeat, the jumpy blonde heaved his shoulders. He hated to be scolded, particularly so if he knew that his leader and friend was all too right.
Zell was indeed a tad bit late.
‘But sheesh, could he look any more lethal? He oughta have a firearms license for those eyes. Hmm... he kinda looks tired, though. Bet he hasn't slept well again last night.'
Though he could be accused of being a little unreliable at times, Zell was also a good-hearted guy. Always cheerful and a bit on the hyperactive side, he cared deeply for the grumpy youth at his side. He knew that Squall was frequently haunted by nightmares - dark and frightening dreams evoked by a past that was more than just shady. Zell had awoken plenty of times during missions, finding Squall thrashing around in his bed and whimpering in his sleep. The brunette, however, would never talk to him about his worries unless he was drunk — a state that occurred about once every decade.
Aside from being kind and caring, Zell was also very gifted in the martial arts. He had mostly taught himself and learned from fighter's magazines ever since his childhood days, and now he was a viable member of the underground resistance faction commonly known as the "Predators" - a tight knit group of patriotic and rebel youths to which Squall Leonhart was the respective leader.
Squall, who had been nicknamed "Lion" by other resistance faction members for his courage and ferocity, was a brilliant leader despite his commonly reclusive behavior. He knew well how to use his weapon of choice, a gunblade that was currently stowed away in the depths of his bag, and contrary to "Tiger" Zell he was also a decent user of magic. He was smart, thoughtful and charismatic in his own, arcane way - a reluctant leader at times, but a leader nonetheless.
Only fools would take either of the young men lightly.
Standing still like a perfect statue, Squall watched out of dark blue eyes how his friend somehow managed to close the door to his house and heave his traveling bag upon his shoulder.
"Okay, okay," Zell gasped as he caught Squall's hard stare that was bare of any hint of patience, "I'm ready."
Squall said nothing, and instead turned around to proceed down the street to their other friend's house. His stride was quick and even, unperturbed by the painfully heavy weight on his back.
At his rear, Zell had trouble keeping up.
"Man, you ain't human, Squall," the blonde groaned, trying to take another bite of the hot-dog in his hand while struggling not to trip over his own feet. "Fenioufly! Flow down!"
Zell had expected no response, and of course he received none. Thus, he reluctantly picked up his pace until he was walking by Squall's side. They trudged down the empty streets until they stopped in front of a picturesque, cream colored house that was decorated with a vast array of the most colorful flowers one could find in all of Galbadia.
In a fit of wise precognition, Squall placed himself carefully off to the side of the door as he thumbed the button of Selphie Tilmitt's bell with a blank expression.
The scenario that unraveled before him was tiring and all too familiar.
"Eeeeek! Oh nooooo! I'm coming, I'm coming! Almost ready, guys!"
Sighing yet again, Squall fastened one hand around his hip, digging his fingers into the smooth black leather of his pants with thinly masked aggression.
He was so sick of this.
"She's worse than I am," Zell snickered at his side. "For real, you'd never think that the three of us are-"
"Shut up!" Squall cut him off immediately, causing Zell to shrivel under his venomous glare. "Idiot. We're outside."
Contritely, Zell resumed to munch on his hot dog. He knew that he had to watch his big mouth — after all, it had already gotten him into trouble on countless occasions. He remembered one mission in particular, when he had totally blown the Predators' cover during a careless flirt with a cute blonde girl at the beach of Balamb. He'd never forget Squall's hurricane-like reaction and his blood-shot eyes; it had been downright horrifying. Zell had been unable to go to sleep for three days straight after that incident, too afraid that Squall would go and strangle him in his slumber.
The brunette sure had looked willing enough.
"8:40," Squall curtly informed him, with an air that suggested murder.
"I'm sure she'll be right out," Zell muttered soothingly, hitching a grin upon his face. "Don't w--"
When Squall leveled his icy gaze with Zell's ever so slowly, the spunky blonde immediately quit smiling.
"I-I mean, how dare her!" he quickly feigned outrage. "She's so--"
"Drop dead, Zell."
Screwing up his eyes, the young martial artist gawked at Squall's nocturnal face and scratched his head in distress.
"Man, aren't you cheerful today..."
"Mind your own business," the brunette snarled.
"But I just--"
Zell never got to finish that sentence, because Selphie's door suddenly flung open with a loud thud that caused numerous flower pots to quiver. A short, dark blonde girl in a summery yellow dress came bouncing down the steps, her curled up hair whipping into her face. In one hand she was clasping the handle of a huge, squeaky yellow suitcase, and it was needless to say that Squall immediately turned up a brow at the sight.
"What's that?" he hissed tartly, jabbing his finger at her luggage.
"Oh, that..." she beamed at him out of light green eyes, patting her case fondly. "I ordered it from Deling City, isn't it neat?"
Judging by the way that Squall's eyebrow was twitching as if he was about to go into conniptions, "neat" probably wasn't the most fit description for Selphie's latest acquisition. The brunette's dislike was of course hard to miss, and Selphie frowned at him darkly.
"I paid 200 gil for it!" she declared, a note of hurt in her voice. "That's two hundred gil, Squall!"
"I don't care! You're not taking that!" the brunette spat, his gale grey stare suitably venomous.
"Cause it's yellow, and it's bright, and... and how dim are you, anyway?! Your stupid suitcase draws more attention than you wearing a sign labeled ‘terrorist' stapled to your fucking forehead! How long have you been with us that you can't even pay thought to basic crap like this?!" he gargled hotly under his breath, still desperate to keep his voice down.
Even Zell cringed at his rough words, but Selphie looked like she was at the verge of breaking out in tears. Squall had never been known to be the most sensible or tactful person on earth, and he could shatter hearts in the matter of seconds. He wasn't necessarily cruel, but his patience ran exceptionally thin.
Fortunately, Selphie wasn't half as delicate as she may have looked. After a first, initial moment of shock she drew a deep breath, dropped her 200 gil suitcase to the ground and fastened her tiny hands around her hips.
"You listen now! Just because you two have the fashion sense of two ugly Grendels--"
"H-hey, keep me outta this," Zell muttered quietly.
"--doesn't mean that I have run around with a nasty brown bag like that, too!" Selphie revved up, her cheeks flushing. "Besides, we're supposed to look like regular reporters, aren't we? I think I'm doing just fine, then! I'm supposed to be fashionable!"
Groaning as if in immense pain, Squall buried his face in his gloved right hand. Just why exactly did departures before missions always have to cause him such a headache? Why couldn't his teammates just listen to him for once? He was their leader after all, or wasn't he? But no, they simply ignored everything he ever said and did whatever the heck they pleased.
As much as he would have preferred to work on his own, he was painfully aware of the fact that missions of this extent could impossibly be carried out by just one person alone. And though irresponsible the other two Predators might have been, they were also skilled fighters, and "Cheetah" Selphie had a talent of hacking into any computer ever created by mankind. She had learned from her older brother, a former resistance faction member and weapons freak by the name of Watts, and as much as the concept currently bothered him, Squall knew that he could not leave the dark blonde girl behind.
"Fine," he growled irritably, dropping his hand back to his side with a snap. "Take the damn thing. We don't have enough time to keep arguing."
Indeed, it was almost 8:50 and they would have to hurry to the station in order to actually catch their train. Luckily, they had already purchased their tickets way beforehand.
Entirely satisfied with herself, Selphie grabbed her suitcase and stuck her tongue out at Squall the moment he had turned his back on her.
"I saw that," the brunette's voice rang acidly.
"No, you didn't!" she bristled. "You can't have."
Quickly, she went to close the door to her house, which she shared with her brother, and she charged after the already disappearing figures of Zell and Squall. Obviously, the two males weren't quite in the mood for a display of chivalry.
Tch, not that she needed it or anything!
Granted, by the time they had turned in to the station, her new suitcase had become kind of heavy. She quickly decided not to take quite so many dresses and shoes on their next mission — she had actually had a difficult time cramming her laptop and all of her "special accessories" into her case this morning.
As she finally caught up with the guys near the train, which had already boarded at the station and seemed to only be waiting for the conductor's last whistle, something other than Zell dropping his last bits of hot dog on accident suddenly caught her attention.
"Fucking can it, Kinneas!"
"I'm telling you--"
"Oh shut up, both of you!!"
Selphie's ears perked up at the sound of three loud voices - two males and one female - and she turned around curiously, brushing her hair behind her ear.
At the other end of their track, preparing to board the train, was a group of young people around her age. All of them were heavily loaded with luggage of their own, and the two guys were bickering at each other rather noisily. One of them was very tall and lean, clad in a long suede coat and a cowboy hat that mostly hid his face from view. The other male was practically as tall but more bulky in his built, and at second glance, Selphie recognized his sun bronzed features almost right away.
"Squall," she whispered excitedly, prodding her brunette leader into the side with her sharp elbow. "Isn't that Seifer Almasy?"
Squall flicked his storm grey gaze up instantly, snapping it to the blonde figure at the end of the platform. His eyes darkened a shade or two, and his lips curved downwards into a fierce frown. He had told neither Zell nor Selphie about his encounters with Almasy, but of course they knew his face from the news.
"Hey man, that really is him," Zell muttered, before Squall had even had a chance to reply. "What's he doing here?"
"They're SeeDs," Squall explained reluctantly. "Parade duty, most likely."
He cast his eyes down again to look at the tickets he was holding, checking for the number of their assigned compartment. He could feel his head starting to ache again, nerves wound tightly behind his forehead. Of course, he should have figured that Almasy and his SeeD buddies would be taking the same train to Deling City. It wasn't necessarily a big deal either, since the Predators could claim a virtually flawless cover, but something about this particular SeeD was unsettling Squall deep within. The fact that he didn't understand this feeling at all wasn't making it any better.
At the other end of the track, Seifer Almasy had halted in his quarrel with Irvine Kinneas the moment he had laid eyes upon the stiff, dark haired figure that was so engrossed in studying his train tickets, or whatever else it was that he was holding on to. The blonde SeeD cocked his head aside just slightly, sudden interest glaring in the rich, emerald depths of his eyes.
Sure enough, he thought, that slender brunette dressed all in form hugging black leather and shouldering a huge duffel bag was none other than Timber Maniacs reporter Squall Leonhart. Even at a distance, Seifer could see that the youth's pale skin seemed to stretch more tightly over his fine features than it had done the day before. Squall looked stressed.
Apparently, Timber's newspaper was dispatching employees for the parade, and this brunette journalist in particular didn't seem pleased.
"Hey, look!" Irvine's cheerful voice suddenly cut in, curiosity seeping into the words. "Isn't that frosty boy?"
"I believe it is," Quistis said flatly. "Seifer, don't even think about--"
"Oh, don't get your panties in a knot," the tall blonde grunted abjectly. "Like I give a fuck."
As if to demonstrate his utter indifference, Seifer tore his gaze away from the brunette and brusquely pushed inside the train. Quite frankly, he hadn't expected to run into that backwater hick yet again, and this third encounter came as a bit of a surprise. For a moment, Seifer wondered who the short girl and the blonde guy at Leonhart's side had been. Friends? Co-workers? A happy merry threesome?
‘Like I care.'
Shrugging, he didn't even wait for Quistis and Irvine before he inserted his ticket into the reading machine and, upon the approving --beep--, entered their reserved compartment. Of course, his friends were close behind him, and they found Seifer's erratic behavior quite intriguing.
"What's with him?" Quistis asked quietly. "Is he still upset?"
"Oh, if I know. He won't tell me," Irvine answered with a slight upturn of his shoulders. "If ya ask me, Seifer's got the hots for him."
"For that dark haired guy?" she whispered, eyebrows raised. "Squall or what's his name?"
"Oh, I doubt that. Seifer looked more like he was dying to slice his throat, if you ask me."
"Ya well, either way, Seif gets really funky when he's around him. He was all thoughts and silence last night."
"Thoughts and silence? Seifer?" Quistis breathed with an air of astonishment. "That's rather... untypical."
"No kidding," the auburn haired cowboy snickered. "He was so quiet that I almost couldn't go to sleep."
The two SeeDs couldn't bite down a laugh, and Seifer heeded them with a crushing glance out of flaring jade green eyes. He had flung his bag into a corner of the small, neatly furnished train compartment, before flopping down upon one of the chintz couches. He stretched his legs out before himself and crossed them languidly, staring at the tip of his boots as he felt the train slowly taking off.
‘The Ice Prince of Timber on this train, huh? Who would have thought. Heh... I guess the parade is kinda a big deal. More bullshit for lil Leonhart to write about, anyway. Well, not like I give a flying fuck.'
Two wagons up, Squall and his posse had also assumed their positions in their own, private little compartment. Considering that a gross of their missions was funded by the mayor of Timber himself, Melvin Carter, the Predators had little problems in the financial department to complain about. Their equipment was top-of-the-line, and thanks to Squall's writing skills and TM editor Zone's loyalty to the resistance factions, their cover was yet unscathed.
As he was sitting on a squashy couch, resting his elbows upon his knees and dropping his head so low that his hair would gently fall into his face, Squall found himself caring little about their cover or their equipment. His forehead was starting to ache badly, and he simply couldn't bleach that idiotic SeeD's image from his mind. It stirred something deep within him, something that he couldn't explain. Mechanically rubbing his thumb over his scar, he wondered at this new and alien feeling. It was neither good or bad, really, it was just... there.
"Squall, are you okay, man?"
He flicked his head aside only an inch, glancing up at Zell's figure that was currently bent over him. The blonde's tattooed features were smothered with concern. Silently, Squall returned his gaze to the ground and nodded.
"Are you sure?"
"Now that you mention it," Selphie's chirping voice piped up, "He really doesn't look so well. What's wrong, Squally?"
Groaning, Squall ran his entire hand along the length of his scar. Couldn't they fucking see that he wanted to be left alone? Well, they never had been much good at picking up on his moods and needs. Not that he could actually blame them — he didn't understand his arcane psyche any better than they did. Still, it'd have been nice if they would have refrained from prying around in his mind for a change.
Irritable, the brunette whipped his head back up and leaped upon his feet. Zell had to take a step backwards to prevent a painful collision, and he eyed Squall with wary confusion.
"Hey man, I just--"
"Look," Squall cut him off sharply, shadowing the word with a note of warning, "I don't want to talk to you right now, Zell. I don't want to talk to anyone."
That said, he practically stormed out of the compartment and into the hallway, halting only when he heard the door hiss shut behind himself. He knew he shouldn't have cracked like that, but for some reason he had more trouble ignoring his friends than usual.
Quietly, he folded one of his arms against the chilly glass of the window and rested his head into his arm's crook, bleakly gazing at the landscape flying by. He felt a sudden urge for fresh air pounding through his veins, causing him to dig his forehead deeper into the comfort of his soft leather jacket. The lack of sleep was clearly lacerating his nerves.
Then he remembered the small platform located at the very end of the train. He'd be able to step out there and catch his breath, and perhaps even free his mind from the shadows that were plaguing it.
Yes. Some fresh air would do him good.
He pushed himself off the window and turned around to proceed down the hallway towards the last wagon. Ensnared in his thoughts as he was walking, he was rather startled when he suddenly heard someone cussing closely in front of him.
"--fucking good for fucking nothing morons."
Squall stopped in his stride and looked up. He had recognized that voice, though scarcely he might have heard it before. The sight of a bulky blonde in a grey trench coat pacing furious circles proved Squall's notion all too correct. It was indeed Seifer Almasy, and the brunette's features slanted wryly at the realization.
Meanwhile, Seifer himself had taken note of the still figure that was standing only few feet away from him. Ready to unleash his anger upon the next best person, he whipped around, only to meet gazes with eyes of strident grey.
Eyes that he had seen in his dreams more than just once.
They stood quietly, staring at each other like predators before they'd pounce their prey. Around them, the train was rattling madly as it hauled overland. Neither of them had any problems balancing their posture against the rash movement. Seifer didn't find that suspicious at all. Rather, he was hypnotized by those arctic eyes and the chocolate brown hair that would dance into their sight with casual elegance. It was, to say the least, downright gorgeous.
Squall didn't like to be stared at. He didn't know whether to blame it on his false identity or his general dislike for 99.9% of the population of Galbadia, but he definitely hated to be looked over. The fact that he was facing Almasy didn't make the situation any easier to deal with. For some reason or another, this man was truly unsettling him. There was something familiar about him - something familiar and dangerous. He could feel memories resurfacing that he didn't even know he had had, but they were so blurred he couldn't take a closer look at them.
Changing his focus, Squall glanced at a point far beyond Seifer; some digital display or map, what did it matter? Anything that wasn't that SeeD served him just fine for the time being. Determined to push past the blonde, Squall drew up his shoulders and rotated his body just slightly as he tried to walk by him — only to rebound from a strong arm that had connected with the window and was now blocking his path.
The brunette could feel his breath stalling in his throat as he quickly took a half-step backwards. So, this SeeD was asking for trouble. Of course. He had been practically begging for it ever since they had first met. A cocky idiot that didn't know when to suck up and move on.
When Squall raised his face to meet Seifer's, his features were dominated by thinly masked hostility and his body was tensed for a fight.
"Squall Leonhart... isn't that right?"
The friendliness swaying that question knocked the wind out of Squall's charge. He actually had to blink once or twice. Though the SeeD was still barring his path, his face didn't necessarily look unkind. Curious and snobbish perhaps, but bare of the raw aggression that had darkened Squall's features. Quickly, the brunette adjusted his plan and forced himself to swallow down most of his anger.
Raising hell and attracting too much attention probably wasn't the best of ideas, anyway.
When Seifer received no immediate reaction to his approach, he curled his lips into a half-smirk. He was intelligent enough to see that where hostility didn't aid him, he was better off attempting politeness.
"The name is Seifer Al--"
"I know who you are."
Well, he had been silenced, just like that. As he stared down upon the slightly smaller brunette who was gazing up at him so defiantly, he found himself smiling on the inside.
This one had a short temper, and his repulsion was almost attractive.
"Of course you do," Seifer drawled softly, leaning most of his weight into his arm that was still stemmed flat-palm against the window. "You're a reporter after all."
The brunette fastened one hand around his hip and laced his eyebrows together, but he said nothing. Obviously, he wasn't of the talkative kind, but Seifer had already figured that much out on his own the night before. Though he didn't like Quistis and Irvine teasing him for it, he did consider this guy somewhat intriguing.
And that scar did look a lot like his own...
"You going to D.C. to report on the parade?" he asked slowly, his mind really working on something else.
Squall had to ponder that question for a moment. Being snappy was of course an option, and probably his most preferred at that, but he also had to uphold his cover and that of his friends. Going all out on this SeeD could get him into more trouble than he had bargained for.
Thus, he nodded.
"With those friends of yours?" Seifer continued, trying to sound indifferent.
"They're co-workers," Squall explained reluctantly.
They stared at each other some more, and Squall found himself wondering yet again at that scar slanted across the blonde's nose. He had seen it on TV for the first time, on that day when Almasy had saved former president Geoffrey Dollet's life. Quite frankly, Squall had never anticipated to see this mark etched into sun tanned skin up close.
"I read one of your articles," Seifer stated plainly, interrupting Squall's thoughts.
Squall shrugged softly. He was a good writer, he knew that much, but he had never actually cared for the art of writing itself. He exercised it for a living and to maintain a solid cover — not more, not less. According to Ellone's tales, his father had been a journalist too, but Squall didn't know much about his old man and he cared to know even less than that. Had his sister been any less wise and informed him of this before he had taken up his job at the Timber Maniacs, he probably would have discarded the idea right away.
Shooting after his dear father really was the last thing he wanted to accomplish in life.
Squall hadn't realized that he had been spacing out, his features curled in disgust at the memory of his father, but he finally noticed that Almasy guy staring at him like he was some mental ward fugitive.
"You okay?" the blonde asked, his impossibly green eyes looking at him questioningly.
What was it to him anyway?
Irritated, he rubbed at the crumpled skin on his nose, not feeling the scar beneath his fingers through the leather of his gloves. Suddenly, being in close proximity to Seifer made him feel extremely uncomfortable; the SeeD's presence was like the stench of something very foul, stirring in him the wish to run away as quickly as he could.
"Did you want anything?" Squall hissed coldly.
Seifer studied him quietly. He couldn't even quite say why he found this hick so fascinating, but one way or another, he surely did. The brunette was like a picture book to look at, full of expressions and grimaces that Seifer thought he had never come across before. Granted, his frigidness was a slight turn-off, but at least it was something new, something unconsumed.
Seifer had become so sick of the never-changing adoration concerning his person that this Leonhart guy came as quite a welcome refreshment.
Squall took the blonde's silence as a negative to his question, and he turned around brusquely. He was no longer in the mood to start anything with the SeeD; quite contrary, he felt strangely drained and lifeless. He was staring down the hallway, his eyes unfocused. Just why was that man affecting him like this? He felt like he had been running for years.
Seifer's husky voice swiveled him out of his reveries, and even if it was only piercing his back, he couldn't help but listen.
"I'll see you in D.C."
It wasn't a question, nor was it an invitation. It was a statement, blank and matter-of-factly, blanched of any doubts or suggestive undertones.
Squall didn't even know why he nodded.
=To be continued!=
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