Title: Betting on Trains

Summary: Xu muses and Quistis takes a train ride. Yuri.

Warning & Disclaimer: Mild angst. All characters belong to Squaresoft.

Notes: Betting on Trains is a part of a longer series being written out of order. See website for other pieces in chronological order.

someone's waving
someone's counting
someone's leaving

there's fifty dollars on this pony
chase him down the tracks
well won't nobody take my business
i'll teach you how to come back

i saw one hundred miles of steel over wood and let her go
i filled my pockets up with coal black with mud and let her go

~betting on trains, hem

This is the way you leave me: without warmth in your hands, without much ceremony, and without promises of writing, for you will not be gone long enough for the letters to reach me before you return.

As most travelers do, you have forgotten some small yet indispensable article—this time your gloves, last time your favorite pen to mark passages in the book you would read—and so I put mine into your protesting hands and tuck them more firmly into your pockets as you fuss. Perhaps it is not entirely appropriate to say you have forgotten them, because you do not tend to make these sort of mistakes; no doubt the blame should lay with the weather, for it has grown colder since last night. Still, you have made this trip often enough to know better, and so that is what I will not tell you, because it sounds pedantic and awkward. Instead, I covertly hold your hand and pretend that it wasn't my purpose all along.

Just a week, you tell me with your chin tucked against the upturned collar of your coat. Because this is a personal leave, you are allowed to wear civilian clothing, a new privilege gained from the past year. Practical always, you chose something that goes with your Garden clothing anyway, navy blue but with gilt buttons and trim to soothe the severity. I was with you when you bought it, I am with you in most cases but never when you wear this coat. The thick wool does not seem right for Balamb. Your Deling coat, I call it, put your Deling coat on, and you never know if I am joking or not.

I don't know either.

Your privilege in dressing is not the only gain; these two years past I have been allowed to accompany you unsupervised to the Balamb train station. There is not much extraordinary to this, nothing that will cause a stir when I file the memo on return: SeeD Xu Lin leaves Garden at 0500 hours with SeeD Quistis Trepe for destination of Balamb train station in Garden rental vehicle #5, returns without SeeD Trepe at 0730 hours. I will not bother to fill out our ranks, they know us on paper too much already. Your reputation goes ahead of you anyway.

This year you are SeeD and officially able to travel alone on the train. This will be mentioned on the memo. I will not mention that I know from your increasing silence when to put my request for a vehicle in, and to set my alarm early so we may drive down in the grey hours of pre-dawn, your head sleeping against the window and I steering carefully to avoid the bumps.

Just a week. Who are these people to you, this man and woman who can claim one out of the fifty-two weeks in a year of your time? You came to Garden at the age of ten and never went home for anything but this, not birthday or holiday or your one serious bout with pneumonia.

It didn't work out, you have said. They're not really my family, you have said. You are not the only one in such a situation and you will not be the last. You have told me how you dislike these visits to a place that is not home, said it in the twist of your hands and the worry of teeth on your lower lip. If anything, I can tell it from the fact you lean against me, already tired from the ride you have not yet taken.

This knowledge hangs between us like the cloud of our breath in the cold air. It makes things awkward. We are obliged to try and appreciate these moments alone from everyone but the sleepy trainmaster; instead, we wait guiltily with our awareness of each other's discomfort and because we do not know how to solve it, we secretly want this wait to be over. Even if that takes you sooner from me… well, you will be back in a week.

What do you do when you travel alone on the train? How do you pass your time? You have your book and pen, your sheaf of papers to study. Did you ever bring your recent tests home to these people, did you show them your instructors' approving comments on the margins, preserved bits of praise in regulation red ink? Surprisingly you did not pack your new SeeD uniform, perhaps you don't wish to show them how far you have gone beyond them. Do you have your own room? Do you find it strange to wake in the morning without someone else breathing in the bed, without me?

There are so many things I mean to ask you but I never dare, and then I never remember them until we are here again, waiting on the train station platform.

But maybe I will never ask you these questions and they are simply never meant to be. More optimistically, maybe this will be the trip that makes you decide not to take any more trips, and we will not wait here any more. I am inclined to doubt this, though.

I have never traveled with you all the way to your destination, although last year I could have, should have. They know that you were one of the ones who did not need a chaperone and they winked your exception by. I know that you have never needed a chaperone, but I am in love enough with you to think that perhaps you need me.

You might laugh at my foolishness, but it and my gloves are all I have to offer for you to carry away.

Listen to me, I want to say to you. Listen. This is what we are going to do.

This is what we are going to do. Things will begin as they usually do, for we are SeeD and we live by regulation and rule. As much as they fight it, children depend on routine. Perhaps Garden knew this from the beginning, because from the moment we pledge our lives, they steep us in it. They continue to encourage routine as long as we are learning and growing in those gilt hallways, only to expect us to adapt and respond to any possible situation once they have turned us loose on the world. Perhaps they are even right.

Things will begin as they usually do. We will wake early and fumble into preparation without bothering with much conversation. You will have packed your suitcase the night before and left it by the door; your clothes are draped neatly over a chair while your coat hangs more neatly yet in the closet. While you are forcing tangles out of your hair and sleep out of your eyes in the bathroom, I will be pouring tea into two (regulation) thermoses that was made on a (quite against regulation) hotplate for the drive down and for you to drink on the train.

The car will probably be cold. All the heaters in the cars make clicking noises as they begin to work, and you will fall asleep in stages all over again while we drive. It is not too far and you always tell me not to let you do this, that it's worse having to wake again just as you truly fall asleep and we arrive, but I never wake you up and you always make faces when you yawn.

Things will remain as usual as we lock and leave the car, walking to the train station and chased by the rattle of your suitcase wheels on the cobblestones. It is at the ticket booth that things will begin to change.

It will be early yet before you have to go, for we are always punctual about such things, much as the wait is never pleasant. The old man will barely glance at my uniform or the denomination of your bills when you hand them over, but you will turn to me and wait with one hand holding them. Your head will tilt down, the corner of your mouth will tilt up, and you will say, "Come with me this time."

I will have no civilian clothes with me, only the uniform on my back and the contents of my pockets. The car will be due back at Garden in two hours. I will have a desk covered with paperwork stacked a foot high and all of it needed yesterday. I will technically be considered away without leave, deserting my post, committing a crime that will take me down at least ten SeeD levels.

And I will reply, "Of course."

The car keys can stay with the trainmaster for Garden staff retrieving—but no, we will focus on the illogical, we will not worry about these needed details. We will only think of the trivial, such as the fact it will be a shame that I left your Hynelight present hidden in the bottom drawer of my desk. It might be Hynelight when we do this, you know. Miracles happen on Hynelight but I do not want a miracle, I only want your company to be my ordinary life.

Will you want to remain in Deling? Somehow I do not think we will be staying with the people you usually visit. Galbadia manufactures a glittering charm, but Deling will be fine and I would like to see it again with this new perspective of you. Motels are cheap if you know where to look, and gil can stretch if you know how. I will teach you, or maybe you will teach me. Gil on the desk, key scrape in the lock, and the world is behind us.

Morning will filter through dirty windows eventually, and shiver in the stillness over a non-functional radiator. The air outside the bed—we only need one bed—will be cold like a river (when have you ever been in a river? you might ask, I might ask) and we can lie lazy or get up as we please. The water will rattle in the pipes and spit random bursts of cold and hot, two can shower more warmly than one. The soap will be cheap; the towels will be scratchy.

On the floor, your suitcase will be unpacked and everything spread everywhere, evidence that we are here to stay in this impermanence. Your outfits are too long in the leg for me, but I will cuff the trousers and the sweater is unimportant, hidden by my jacket. We will both be excited, exchanging small, secret smiles that are not meant for anyone else, not the maid in the hall or the desk clerk or the people in the street.

The birds outside that watch the vendors hopefully for crumbs will scatter from our brisk footsteps, wheeling up into the sky and settling in the eaves. We can watch them go, amazed and giddy at the sight of all that freedom. Somewhere, fresh bread is being baked.

On the street, you will turn to me and say, "Let's go somewhere we've never been."

As we are. And as we will.

These thoughts keep me warm on the platform here with you. I only think of them here. Some things are so fantastic that you know they will never happen, and so they don't hurt to dream about once a year.

You must realize something. You must realize that I know I am often foolish with you and about you, but at least I realize that myself. Perhaps you would say that only makes it worse, to have knowledge but not to act, to keep willfully walking in the wrong direction with the right map in one hand. We are both SeeD and we know the danger of dreaming about a future that we might not have. But all this is conjecture only, and what I would like and what I think you might, in some sort of future, want as well. We are both SeeD and we know our final destination, but there are stops to be made along the way.

Therefore, some indefinite wait from now, that is what we are going to do.

Until then, I will be here for you to meet in a week, as always, and I will bring your gloves.

I do not expect any letters.

the whistle's sounding
you are leaving
i am counting