and the

Click-click-click goes the trigger on the gun;
Chug-a-chung goes the diesel.
This here monkey thinks it's all in fun;
'Til BAM! He kills the weasel.

Irvine stared at the man through the sniper sight, finger idylly flipping the trigger back and forth. There were no bullets loaded--he had, in fact, only one slug, buried deep in his coat pocket underneath a fake ID and a crumpled 5000-Gil note. The man had no idea who was watching him--he probably didn't even have the foggiest idea that he had been targeted for assassination. As far as that man knew he would probably spend a good deal of the rest of his life as the engineer of the Timber-Desert train. Little did he know that the rest of his life wasn't that long a time span anymore.

The man had turned to stare out the window, a bored expression on his face. If Irvine's coat hadn't blended in as well with the dead-or-dying grass, it was a vague possibility that the man might have seen him stretched out on the bluff, staring down at him across the muzzle of the gun. He'd have to have some damn good eyesight, though.

Anyone who sees their own death comin' at them has to bee pretty keen on their senses. Huh, wonder if anyone else can see the Reaper followin' me around?

The sight into the window was narrowing--the train had gone around one curve, and was now moving off into the distance. Irvine cooly gauged the speed against the distance, wondering how long he could keep the engineer in his sights so well that he could get an accurate shot. He grinned when he reached an estimate he liked.

The window was sliding out of his view now, and he watched as he slowly lost sight of the man. There was the slightest moment when Irvine had the man's head right behind the crosshairs....

he said.

––– ––– –––

(A small back corner of Irvine's mind had always wondered how Rinoa could possibly get lost in Squall's eyes. Whenever he looked at them, they seemed to bo completely hard and flat--about as easy to get lost in as a maze locked behind a metal door and a sign reading Beware the Grendel. But, then again, there were a lot of things he didn't understand about women--and Rinoa wasn't even close to the most confusing girl he had ever known.
(One thing was for sure. Dancing to the beat of a different drummer had never been so literal. Who would have thought that Selphie would have been able to drag her favorite band into playing at the SeeD graduation, anyway?
(First dance quick, second fast--a whole lot faster than the second-to-last. Third dance better--nice and slow, fourth even slower with the lights turned low. Fourth from the end the quickest of them all, just watch the cadets spin twist and fall....)

How long the road depends on your stride
How hard the problem depends on your mind.
How deep the wound depends on your pain
How bumpy the road on the part of the lane.
What's the difference between a rhyme and a verse?
One's the mortician, the other's the nurse
The first is a blessing, the latter a curse
The latter the best and the former the worst.

How deep the water depends on your stroke
How frightening the fire depends on the smoke.
How wide the gap depends on the bridge
How risky the cliff depends on the ridge.
What's the word that can define as bright?'
The sun in the day or the moon in the night?
The dark of the room or the strength of the light?
The cold of the wind or the fire's hot might?

How hard the game depends on your style
How gloomy the face depends on the smile.
How true the truth depends on the words
How lively the sky depends on the birds.
What's the difference between one and another?
Is it the difference between sister and brother?
Or is it the difference of save and of smother?
The mouse in the grass or the tomcat above her?

What is the difference between question and answer?
When truth is so plodding while wonder's a dancer?
And what's the difference between perception and real?
The former has truth, latter only appeal.

(Selphie, Selphie... Garden should have expected a band like that from you.)

––– ––– –––

The weasel's falling to the ground;
The monkey's hovering over.
The grass is sprouting all around--
Just not the four-leafed clover.

Irvine couldn't help whistling. The rain was pounding down on him, drenching his coat and running in rivulets off his hat, making it so that the only thing he could see through the sniper sight was a streaked hole of constantly changing grey. The train was chugging along below him, making him wonder what kind of sadistic employer would make his worker do four runs a day--back and forth, back and forth. Then again, he had to wonder what kind of a sadistic employer would order such a poor guy to be shot from afar when he was working, too.

Yeah, maybe there are just too many cruel bastards in the world today. Hell, I might be staring down the barrel at one right now... if I could see anything through the goddamn rain.

The whistling was a cheery little tune, completely opposite the way he actually felt. In reality he felt cold, tired and annoyed to the point of murder... but murder was exactly the reason he was out here, wasn't it? The only thing that was preventing him from doing it--the rain--had simply blown in and would probably blow out before the poor man came back from his next trip.

Well... almost the only thing.

Irvine had always wondered what would happen if a train went along with no engineer. Would it just keep going and going? How far would it go once there was no more track to go on? Would it grind to a halt without the engineer to look after the engine and control the speed? Would anything at all be different? Who knew, maybe those engineers were only there so Timber could claim a lower unemployment rate. As far as he could tell from watching the man through the sniper sight, it wasn't that exciting a job.

Yeah, still one hell of a lot better than camping on this hill trying to kill a man with no life. Hah... kill a man with no life. I get it.

The train rolled away into the rain-streaked distance.

––– ––– –––

(Yes, Cid, please make a speech! As if no-one's heard everything you have to say a thousand times before. It would make sense for a calm, self-assured guy to run a military academy, but this wasn't what anyone would have had in mind. And to think that a lot of cadets are scared of you when they first come to Garden, when in reality you're nothing but... what did Selphie compare you to? A big teddy bear in a red vest.
(Selphie, you have one strange mind. Why in hell did you pick that band out to be your favorite anyway?
(Third dance from the end slower than the first, lots of instrumental bits, but there's always something that keeps it from being the perfect moment. Maybe this time it's you physically dragging Squall and Zell over to congratulate me on my graduation. Don't you have any idea what romance is?)

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are?
Fire-fly or candle light,
Angel dim, or demon bright?
How I gaze up through the trees,
Gazing on your mysteries.

When the dark and evening come
I first greet the brightest one,
Then greet in turn each dimmer soul,
Who makes the firmament a whole.
Who fills the sky with diamond eyes
Who gaze back down on night and I.

Why you see the day and flee
Remains the greatest quandary.
Some are afraid of night and dark,
But you; afraid of day and lark.
Into the blue you disappear,
Leaving day and I still here.

Little star, little star,
How I wonder who you are?
Imp or cherub, phoenix wing
Goddess, servant, slave or king,
A nocturnal beast of air
And I here ever, pond'ring where.

(Selphie... these songs are getting embarrassingly odd.)

––– ––– –––

An artist paints with many hues
But there's blood on this easel....
The painting's called To Win Or Lose--
The paint is from the weasel.

So I would like to know why I'm supposed to kill the guy. That's not so much of a problem, is it?

The clearing clouds didn't seem to be too intent on giving him an answer. Undeterred, Irvine lay on his back and looked up into the heavens as if he was going to read its nonexistent mind.

They hand me a gun, shove me out onto a cliff, and tell me to shoot some guy I don't even know. I mean, it's part and parcel of the job, but I still wish I had at least sat down to a cup of coffee with the man.

The rumble of the train was still far off, and Irvine's gun was close by. He was taking the time to relax, ask himself a few questions--for now, directed at the sky.

All right, so let's pretend that he's this total jerk who's into drowning kittens and kicking little kids. I still wouldn't feel quite right about killing him. I mean, the man's got a right to his own life, doesn't he? He's had the thing since he was born, it must be kind of valuable to him. Should I really be stealing it away from him?

A single, fat drop of rain seemed to fall from nowhere and land squarely between his eyes. Blinking, he wiped it away with his sleeve.

So I'll take that as a yes, then?

The train was coming closer, now--it wouldn't be long before he would be expected to roll over and take the shot.

Yeah. Roll over, lie down, shoot the nice man in the train engine. Good SeeD, Irvine! Here's fifteen thousand gil....

Yeah, so I'll probably choke again. You know, it's really no problem when I'm fighting monsters and soldiers--all look the same, anyway--but I really don't see myself sitting here and picking off people just minding their own business maintaining trains and suchlike. You know what the problem is: it's that any time I'm about to kill someone who hasn't done any damn thing to me, I imagine this big booming voice coming out of the heavens and asking who made me god. Maybe if I miss enough shots I'll tally up enough points in my favor to bribe my way into the good afterlife.

The cloud that had decided to hit him between the eyes was rolling off now. Irvine's eyes tracked it as it made its slow, stately way towards the horizon to torment the people of Deling City. Irvine couldn't be more happy to see it go.

I always tell everyone how lonely it is to be a sharpshooter, and exactly why they should all pity me. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's a hell of a lot worse lying six feet under holding a bullet some poor confused guy planted in your skull from the top of a bloody cliff.

The train's rhythmic chug-chung, chug-chung began to fate into the distance as it passed him, and Irvine shrugged.

I'll get him on the return trip, he said.

––– ––– –––

(Okay, so that went badly. Last time Selphie ever convinces me to wear new dress shoes to a dance. Smooth soles on a waxed floor.... whoever came up with the idea of shoes without traction in the first place should be shot in the foot. And after careening into Nida and his partner, falling to the ground and managing to somehow rip my SeeD jacket open to boot, I don't think its just my elbow that's been bruised. In fact, I think my pride has slipped into a coma and will need some serious nursing before the night is over.
(I told Selphie that I couldn't be any more embarassed, and she said that in that case I should try to sing the next song with the band. They had an extra mic, after all. I'm sure her intentions are good--good for someone, at least--but some people are just no help whatsoever.
(Second song from the end is getting slow. Nice and smooth. I think I'll dance this one, too--except this time I'll keep my balance.
(Yeah, right. I'm gonna float like a butterfly, fall like a brick.)

There is a certain ambiance
That's scattered, might I say,
In misery and happiness,
Both here and far away.
In the grace of wheeling vultures,
And the futility of play.
In the solid piston hammering
Throughout the ceaseless day.

A crying in the wilderness
That no one ever sees,
The nighmare in the bushes,
Hidden safely in the leaves;
The fine wood of the coffin
Of the recently bereaved,
The kiss upon the brow
Of a thousand would-be thieves.

A final drop of red wine
On a quattuor-blessed ground.
A spray of plastic flowers
On a rich-soil grave mound.
Trading life for gold
When a day gains you a pound.
And the silence of a singer
That follows the last sound.

(Selphie... always the sentimentalist, aren't you?)

––– ––– –––

The monkey left the weasel behind
To find another playmate.
The weasel's not in a state to mind
The next friend monkey takes.

The slug fitted nicely into the barrel. The train wheels fit on the tracks, the hill fit just above them, and the sniper sight latched onto the rifle just like it had been made to do. In fact, everything fit together so smoothly that Irvine was beginning to think that he was the only loose screw.

The man had--seemingly for the sake of variety--gone to stand on the balcony behind the engine. Irvine was still trying to decide whether to curse him or thank him for giving him such a clear shot.

Damn engineer. Don't you want to live at all?

The train was coming steadily closer. If he had wanted to, Irvine could have shot the man and have been fairly certain of killing him from where he was. however, he had already made up his mind to wait until the last possible moment.

The man was calmly pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, and trying to light them with a lighter that kept blowing out in the wind. Annoyed, he turned to face almost the exact location Irvine was waiting, cupping the flame to protect it.

Nasty habit, smoking, Irvine whispered down at him. It'd earn you an early grave, if nothing else did first.

The man finally succeeded in lighting it, taking a long drag at it. Irvine resisted the impulse to grin at him.

Yeah, you guessed it. I'm gonna be that nothing. Great job, being nothing--I'd tell you to try it someday, but....

The train rounded the first bend. Now, even if the man had been in the engine, he would have been within range of Irvine's rifle. The sharpshooter's eyes narrowed.

Just give him the last few moments of his life....

Silently, Irvine began counting down. He could guess the exact moment when the train would take the next curve, bringing the next car between him and the mark. He resisted the urge to yell to see if the man had any last words.


Around and round the hasberry bush....


...the monkey chased the weasel.


The monkey thought it all in fun....

A gentle pull back on the trigger, and the bullet flew out of the muzzle. It raced through the air less than a meter away from the train wall, ramming the man in the chest with enough force to knock him backwards, staggering off the train. Irvine put the gun down, face uncharacteristically grim.

...and Pop! goes the weasel, he finished solemnly.

Sitting up and rocking back on his heels, Irvine watched the train go by--completely oblivious to the fact that it now had no engineer.

Well, that answers that.

So who made you God? he asked himself. Then he shook his head.

If Squall ever finds out that I spent an entire day in the hills talking to myself instead of killing this guy, he'll probably find some way to get me demoted. Dammit. All the friends a guy could want and I'm the only one with any compassion? Hey, I'm a sheep in wolf's clothing, see if you can sniff me out....

The last train car rolled away, and Irvine saw to his astonishment that the man was still lying on the ground. It was a miracle that he hadn't gotten caught up with the wheels.

Suddenly, Irvine had the bizarre impulse to go down and check to see if the man was all right despite having a bullet implanted in his heart. Standing up, he began to walk slowly down towards him--although he wasn't sure if it was leisure or trepidation that slowed his steps. Whichever it was, he still swore he got there too soon.

Bending over the man, he noticed to his surprise that he still seemed to be breathing raggedly. There was a pool of blood by the man's head, but the bloodstain from the bullet was on his back. Vaguely, Irvine wondered if he had punctured a lung.

Reaching out a hand, he placed it on the man's shoulder. Rolling him over onto his back, the sharpshooter's eyes went wide as he felt the muzzle of a gun being thrust practically into his kidney.

Who was it? the man asked, as if the knowledge could actually be of some use to him. I knew Ezechial wanted the train line, but damned if I thought he'd stoop to this. You one of Ez's errand boys? I can sure clean up this mess before he gets it back--

The gun cocked. Irvine, still stunned that the man he had thought he just killed was trying to kill him, jerked away. Something to the effect of Hey, you don't want to do-- made it out of his mouth before the man decided to let the bullet make a very rude entrance for itself in his side.

The last thing Irvine was actually conscious of was himself, muttering something to the effect of Hey, man, you know that guns don't kill people, right? under the clear Galbadian sky.

––– ––– –––

(Hey, Nida, I said I'm sorry, okay? ...what? Okay, I'm sorry that Squall rammed into you last year, but I'm sure there isn't a conspiracy against you, man. Come on! You know I wasn't trying to! ...jeez....
(Selphie, are you sure this is your favorite band? Where did you manage to dig them up--a fair in Balamb--hey, no slaps, okay? Please? ...ow.
(Thank you, Quistis. I'm glad I made it, too. I'll have to thank Cid for making so many exceptions for me. I would add that you look radiant in that dress, but I'm afraid of getting slapped again.'re welcome.
(You're favorite song is up now, huh? About a guy going off to war and never coming back? Why is it those are always so popular, anyway? You know, if I fell in love with someone who was going out to get themselves killed, I sure as hell wouldn't be singing about it. You're right, Rinoa, I probably just don't understand.
(So this is going to be the last dance--the slow one? Well, I can't say I'm too sad., of course, that's because I was looking forward to dancing this one with you, Selphie!

How's a dance meant to end?
Holdin' tight against a friend,
Whip away as the music fades,
An' wish for one last time to tango.

Now what is one supposed to do?
You'll miss me like I'll miss you.
So much pain to see you again
For one last time to tango.

If there's a way to say goodbye
I'd never use it. No, I'd lie--
Farewell could be the Damn to hell
That one last time to tango.

Alone's not a way I can live;
Not without the love you give.
I'd pine for your kind hand in mine
An' one last time to tango.

Now slow the beat, make long the dance.
I cannot spare a parting glance--
I'd rather cry than meet your eyes,
This one last time to tango.

So how's a dance meant to end?
Holdin' tight against a friend.
Dead's the song--all dead and gone,
Our one last time to tango.

(Good night, everyone... it's been a fun evening. I hope I'll be around for a lot more as long as I'm a SeeD....)

––– ––– –––

A silver gil for a spool of thread
A gold one for a needle.
That's the way the world works,
Too bad for the weasel....

With all the time people must spend staring at it, they should really paint these ceilings or something. And pad the beds a bit more. And why is it the room I always seem to get stuck in has no doors and a huge picture window on one side?

Whoever designed this place is one sick, sick sadist.

I see you're awake.

The doctor's (rather pointless) statement rang out from the office, and Irvine glanced over as she walked into the room. Not really, he answered. I talk in my sleep.

Sure you do, Kadowaki responded. You really worried some people this time, Mr. Kinneas. How on earth did you manage to get shot on a sniping mission?

Irvine's cheeks turned a shade redder. Um... it's a long story, he evaded. Kadowaki shrugged.

Fine. Well, be more careful next time. You might end up dead.

Whatever you say, doctor, Irvine agreed.

Kadowaki said. I might have to have Cid send someone to look after you, otherwise.

Oh, please do, Irvine said, propping himself up on one elbow with a roguish grin beginning to spread across his face. You don't know how lonely it get out there... with only the wind and the gun for your companions. Sharpshooting's a lonely trade, so make it a pretty young thing....

Kadowaki exclaimed, unable to keep a small smile off her face. Keep on like that and I'll tell Cid to send Squall along!

Irvine said, collapsing back onto the bed. Never mind. I'll just suffer out there by myself.

A yellow blur darted into his peripheral vision from the direction of the entrance, and Kadowaki made a discreet exit. Irvine tried to sit up, only to be knocked back as Selphie rammed into him and proceeded to give him a bear hug displaying more strength than someone of her dimensions should realistically posses.

What happened to you? she demanded. Irvine gave a deprecating smile.

I got shot, he said. Selphie pulled back, folding both hands over her chest.

I knew that! she said. I meant how! We were all so worried---

I know, Sefie, Irvine said. I'm fine now, don't worry.

Never do that again!

As long as I get reminded as much as I have been, I think I can manage that, Irvine said. Trust me, as soon as Kadowaki lets me out of here we can have one last time to tango.

Selphie's hands darted to her hips. That's not funny! she burst.

Selphie said, abruptly getting over her annoyance and moving over to sit on the edge of the bed. You've been asleep for almost a day now. What happened?

Oh, not much--at least, not much that you would find interesting, Irvine said. Had a lot of time out there to think, though.

About what?

Irvine tilted his head back, staring through the smaller window to the outside. There was the faint scent of rain in the breeze that ruffled the curtains, and the clouds rolling off into the distance looked surprisingly like the ones who had refused to give him any advice the day before.

Yeah, sure, come here and laugh at me, Irvine thought at them. I still won.

Smiling, he turned back to Selphie. You ever hear the story of the monkey and the weasel? he asked.