Written for a fic exchange and beta'd by Reifa, as has recently become usual. This was actually pretty challenging to write, so feel free to critique to your heart's content, y'all. Still, it was really fun to write!

So, as I said, here's for Fiercesunshine!

A Matter Of Preference In Beverages

One-Shot Unique Chapter

Right when Xaldin decides this is as far as the rabbit hole goes, he's faced with the sudden realization that this man is quite the combination of a classic-made-modern mad hatter, the modern-made-classic devil's advocate, and a well-mannered madman with a pleasant atmosphere. Around him seats are pulled close to the fireplace, next to a small round table.

"Tea?" offers the puzzling character that is Luxord, and Xaldin can only abandon hope and nod.

But ah, how could it come to this…?

The lancer was, first and foremost, incapable of feeling in much the same way all the other Nobodies are unable to feel. But unlike many of the residents of the castle, he quite liked his job. Drop some cursed beast's mental stability to dangerous levels, mess up countless worlds, occasionally poke around the scene of a disaster along with Xigbar, drag in neophytes, have his stabby way, and that was it. Back to common duties until the next mission, which required him to have his stabby way in quite a lot of things – okay, with that in mind, Xaldin would've loved the job if he could.

And it was a simple enough job, most of the time. Even being around the other members of the Organization was fine as long as he watched passively and participated sporadically – most of them knew not to insist, anyway. Except the likes of Axel, who was an okay guy if it weren't for that whole aura that made him unbearably annoying after a while, or Xigbar, who knew all too well but seemed to choose to ignore a few facts here and there, or even Demyx, who could be fun if he didn't exaggerate the make-believe emotions they all had or bring up the whole subject of hearts – they had none, Xaldin was one of the original Nobodies who defined themselves as such and he wasn't about to change his mind because of a little pesky musician. There was also Vexen, but he didn't leave his laboratory often, and Zexion when he wasn't being a brat.

Luxord, however, was supposed to be one of those who knew better and kept Xaldin's longing for stabby ways at a minimum.

"Ah, Xaldin, good evening. Care to have a seat and talk over a quick game?"

Until now, of course.

It didn't help that the Gambler wore his poker face every damn hour of every damn day of every damn week – in fact, it kept Xaldin wondering what could've ever brought Luxord's longing for entertainment unto him, of all Nobodies. He'd seemingly enjoyed fooling the others a few times before, both in simple card games and complex riddles, from betting to strip poker, but why-oh-why he directed his attention towards III was a mystery.

Xaldin had no duties to take care of, and being idle somehow made him become harsher in both motion and reaction, itchy to occupy himself with training or another aspect of his job – that never ended well. If he recalled correctly, half of the little 'incidents' between Ansem's apprentices were proof of such. Perhaps it would be a good way to conclude the evening, considering Xaldin could not remember any overly irritating trait in Luxord.

Finding some other traits in the blond might not be in his best interests anyway; Xaldin swore that if Luxord attempted to pull anything on the wind elemental there would be consequences.

"Not tonight."

"I see. Perhaps on a different occasion," Luxord accepted, almost too easily. "Busy?"

"Yes, I don't really have time," Xaldin lied, ready to head off somewhere else in search of a different way to pass his time.

And so, it was nothing but ironical when X gave a small smirk and clicked his fingers – it took a few seconds for Xaldin to realize the previous silence had been intensified now that the clock wasn't ticking anymore.

"I would say we have a few spare moments in our hands. Have a seat, my friend, let us not waste precious time."

Xaldin couldn't help but think there was something very, very odd about the whole image of the presumably British Nobody shuffling a deck of cards with an inscrutable expression in a corner of a blank castle in The World That Never Fucking Was, looking forward to a game during a time that would stay still for as long as he pleased. Very, very odd and very, very intriguing, even though it didn't count as killing time and it should be beating its own purpose, but Luxord could arrange that later, he supposed.

III nodded at the prospect of where this could take him. "As you say."

He sat across from Luxord on the small round table, off-handedly taking note that the unmoving fireplace still radiated warmth.


Fifth round, and as expected, Xaldin is losing. This doesn't bother him at all.

But he's still in a frozen universe where not a single second has ticked away, and there's still this oddly indescribable, poker-faced, simply too polite Nobody standing by his side with two cups of tea that would make the question seem rhetorical, if he wasn't so damn unpredictable. This doesn't bother him at all either, and that's… well, Xaldin isn't sure what to make of it – the whole situation seems weirder than Wonderland and it's not bad at all. Screw it, he thinks, it's turning out to be an interesting evening and that's enough.

Luxord's choice in beverages, though, was a hit far from target; the lancer shakes his head. "Is there any coffee left?" He asks, actually thinking more along the lines of strong alcohol – but he'll manage with anything stronger than tea.

Much to his surprise, Number Ten laughs and places the two cups on the table anyway.

Well, he's mad. Why did I not foresee this?

Still, Xaldin grunts quietly and takes the cup, sipping its contents.

Screw it, for all I know this could be-

"What the hell's in this?"

Luxord leans forward slightly, elbows on the table and cards in hand. "If I told you, that would rob the secret of all its fun, wouldn't it?"

The liquid still burns his throat in a slightly familiar way, and although Xaldin can't quite put his finger on what it is, it's got to be alcohol. Amazing. Still, very, very strange.

"Whatever it is," he says, smirking – that's a first. "It's the best I've had in a while. You have my respect, Ten."

"Glad to hear that!" The Gambler laughs again; it seems less mad and more sincere now. Either that, or being completely nuts was contagious.

Seventh round; Xaldin begins to wonder how, truly, it can still be 9:30pm.

But in the non-time, he also decides a crazed mind really is a contagious illness, which he's most certainly caught by now. Surely he has, because he's beginning to wonder about Luxord, and what type of person he was when he actually was a person. He can remember Dilan's research, air pressure, the atmosphere, speed, aerodynamics and so many things that somehow interested him so much, and Xaldin has to wonder if that has anything to do with his current element and abilities.

Yet he can't imagine Luxord any differently, and that makes him think he must've had an entertaining life before this, all this.

But there's the eighth loss, and Xaldin can only shake his head and give a deep chuckle. "Enough for a night, I give up."

"As you wish," Luxord says as he picks up Xaldin's last hand and glances at it briefly before flinging the cards down his sleeve; he looks at the other Nobody with a smile - a charming one, Xaldin might just accept, except he wasn't quite charmed by it. "A winning hand."

To his own surprise, III laughs as he stands up.

"What time should it be?"

"The time for a drink," Luxord answers. "Don't you agree?"

"If it's on you, then surely you read my mind."

"I believe I do."

The Gambler stands as well and clicks his fingers again; suddenly the clock strikes 1 AM and there are only ashes in the fireplace.

Normality has not yet returned.

Xaldin decides this doesn't bother him. And when Luxord steps aside and urges him onward with a bow and an exaggerated arm motion, like a gentleman, he decides that if anything, this is the start of something definitely demented. Surely he's going nuts already - "Don't ever do that again," he grumbles - but that's okay.