"Got a light?"
Vincent looked over at the impertinent speaker, one whom, under other circumstances (such as if they actually known each other), wouldn't have deserved such a label. However, he had never seen the young man in his life, and although he was not a sore sight, there was still hesitation as one of his carefully-traced eyebrows arched upward.
The young man smiled, a self-deprecating one. "Just . . . thought I'd ask." The blue eyes turned their attention to the book bag next to Vincent, adequately taking up the available space on the subway bench. "Um, may I sit down?"
Vincent waved casually, granting permission while hooking his right foot into the strap loop of his almost-empty backpack, dragging it from the seat and onto the dirty station floor. He watched the young man drop onto the hard plastic, wiping his blonde brows with the back of his free hand. The other one was busy rummaging through his pockets, probably vainly searching for something to give off cigarette-lighting fire. Vincent smiled to himself-perhaps he should play nice today.
He took the half-smoked cigarette out of his mouth and held it out. "Here," he said, watching as surprise flooded the young man's features, followed by obvious relief.
"Thanks," the two cigarettes met, and smoke soon swirled out both ends in shapeless patterns. The smell of clove reached Vincent's nostrils, and he found himself liking it, just a little. It was unfamiliar but at the same time, enticing.
They separated and smoked in peace, each on his own side of the bench, and once a few minutes had passed, a crowd suddenly descended the subway stairs, decked out in suits and ties and carrying the telltale portfolios. Looks like the law firms around have reached the end of their 9-to-5, Vincent thought. Elena should be here any minute.
He heard a sigh and turned in time to catch the other in the act of smashing his leftover filter into the side of the bench. Vincent raised his eyebrow again but didn't comment. The young man sighed once more, looked at his watch, then raised his head and met Vincent's eyes.
"You don't happen to know when the next train is, do you?"
Pausing, Vincent thought for a minute. "Should be soon. Unless it's held up by the protest."
"Something about unfair treatment of construction workers," Vincent said. "It's supposed to start around rush hour today. Probably'll take an hour or so."
The young man's jaw dropped. "An hour? Are you kidding me? I don't have that kind of time! I have somewhere to be, and it's -"
Vincent stared at the suddenly excited stranger, who had leapt up from the seat and was waving his arm quite dramatically. The blonde paused in the midst of his raving and nervously rubbed the back of his head. "Um," he glanced quickly at Vincent, "sorry."
Vincent chuckled. "You may want to take a cab."
The blonde shook his head. "Pile-up near Canal. It's the reason I'm down here in the first place. Well, the good that did."
He sat back down on the bench, a little closer to Vincent this time-looked like he'd accepted fate and decided to wait it out. Vincent let the smile linger on his face. Cute kid, he thought, if a bit melodramatic. He lifted the cigarette back to his mouth, taking a careless drag. The other, now cigarette-less, sat with a sour look on his face and empty hands on his knees.
Vincent had just decided he liked the look of concentration in the furrowed blonde eyebrows, too, when the other broke the silence.
The blonde stuck a hand out to him. "I'm Cloud."
He didn't take it, but he did offer his name. "Vincent."
"Huh, how unusual," Cloud replied.
Vincent shot him an amused look. "My name is unusual?"
A faint pink color rose to the blonde's cheeks. "It's supposed to be 'Angel.' I thought at least 'Cloud' sounded a bit more masculine."
"I see..." Vincent would've laughed, but rather than risk offending Cloud, he shifted his position, facing the blonde a bit more. The subway noise had died a little by then, but the mass of men and women in suits did not diminish, only taking on the same exasperated expression Cloud had worn moments earlier. The train was still nowhere in sight.
"So where are you so eager to get to, if you don't mind me asking?" Vincent said.
"Home," Cloud answered. "It's my nephew's birthday, and I promised to be back early for dinner. I live with my brother."
"Oh. How old is he?"
Cloud smiled. "Just turned eight."
The track a few feet away from them rumbled right then. The crowd began to shift toward the blue lines, while the signal light from the front of the train shot its beacon through the dark tunnel. Cloud stood up, stretching a bit, and readjusted the backpack on his shoulder.
"About time," he exclaimed, turning to Vincent. "Where're you headed?"
"I'm not waiting for the train."
The blue eyes widened. "What? Then what're you -"
"Someone's meeting me here," Vincent explained.
"Happy birthday to your nephew."
"I'll relay the message. Thanks." The blonde walked toward the slowing train, waving over his shoulder. "It was nice to meet you, Vincent."
"Likewise," Vincent responded, watching the slim figure disappear amidst the black and navy suits. The train's loudspeaker announced cautions about the closing doors in the automatic whine, and Vincent sighed, suddenly feeling a bit alone.
"There you are!"
He turned just in time to see Elena-sporting an impeccable set of shiny black dress suit- making her way from the subway entrance, shiny blonde hair short and slicked back from her high forehead. He waved, standing up and stretching out his back. He smeared out the cigarette butt on the dirty floor, and then bent down to pick up his backpack, holding it in his hand like a laptop briefcase.
"How's the trip?" His friend came up to him and wrapped him in a quick hug. "You starved yet?"
He felt the hunger then. "I could use some pasta."
"Pasta? Hah!" Elena tsked. "That is a very sordid welcome dinner. We are going to have fish-at one of the best sushi places in downtown. By the way-where's the rest of your stuff?"
Vincent shrugged. "This is it."
"Impossible!" Elena gaped. "Where're your clothes? You did bring extra sets of clothing."
"They're being shipped with the furniture."
"Bought a new one. Should be delivered a few days from now."
Elena shook her head in disbelief. "Vincent Valentine, you move like a madman."
"I'll take that as a compliment." Vincent laughed, and the woman sighed, but the tone was full of good humor.
"Well, now I understand why they told me you like to 'travel light' nowadays. But there is one thing that I need to remind you of."
She took a handful of his long, dark hair, at the same time pointing to her own short tresses for emphasis. "This has got to go."
"Yes, yes," Vincent grumbled. "I know!"
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