The Best Way to a Woman's Heart


by Tenshi


written for the final fantasy ficathon '05.


The Best Way to a Woman's Heart

Irvine figured it was just his usual luck that the first day of summer break it would be raining. For six weeks the weather had been absolutely perfect as he was stuck inside, grading final history essays and watching sixty different cadets assemble, load, fire, clear, reload, unload without firing, clean, and disassemble a standard issue Valiant for their basic firearms certificates. On Saturday, it was finally over, grades were in, and Irvine, barring unexpected duty, was free of obligation for two months. The rumble of thunder had woken him up, though when Irvine met Zell later he said it was the sound of the temperature dropping ten degrees that had really done the trick. Zell had just laughed, because Zell had the good sense to only take on classes that had practical exams. He'd spent the last week outside watching students stumble through marital arts katas, and his skin was already midsummer golden.

"That's Balamb for you," Zell said, as they stood under the overhang in the Quad and watched sheets of water sluicing off the blue tiled roof. Students were darting around busily in spite of the rain, some of them clearing out to go home for break, some of them looking for instructors to sign final clearance forms. The front drive of Balamb was full of umbrellas and cars and anxious parents.

"So much for the beach party, eh?" Zell put his hands behind his head. "Wanna game of cards in the lounge?"

"Like hell," Irvine said, squaring his hat down over his eyes. "I'm getting out of this building and Hyne help me if I have to swim to do it, I will."

Better judgment had him heading to the garage for a Garden car. There was one left, forlorn in the corner parking spot, and Irvine was halfway there when the engine roared to life.

"Oh no you don't," Irvine said, breaking into a run, prepared to lie, cheat, and pull rank if he had to. "Hey! Wait just a second!" He banged on the roof of the car. "I'm Lt. Colonel Kinneas and I'm requisitioning this vehicle for Garden business!"

"What?" the driver said, inching down the tinted driver side window just enough to show arched blond eyebrows and a cool smile. "Is one of those fathers out there after you with a shotgun, Irvine?"

Irvine caught himself against the canopy of the car, leaning down to the window. "Quistis. I need this car."

Quistis fiddled with automatic mirrors. "Sorry, Irvine. I've had this reserved for two weeks now. I'm not giving it up so you can go catch up on Balamb's exciting night life, which I'm sorry to tell you consists mostly of cleaning fish."

"I don't care," Irvine growled. "It's more action than I've seen this entire term. If I don't get out of Garden I'm going to shoot something, up to and including myself."

Quistis smiled sweetly at him. "Then you can walk, Irvine." She flipped the window toggle, and Irvine stuck his fingers in the gap between glass and doorframe. There was an audible crunch.

"Ow! Listen, You don't have to give me the car. Just drop me off in town. I'll rent something for the way back."

"Ir-vine."

"I'll buy you lunch. Anywhere you want." Irvine winced, trying to free his hand. "Please."

Quistis sighed. "Fine, fine. Not like I had anything planned or anything..." She stabbed her finger on the window control and Irvine gasped, shaking his bruised fingers. "Get in. I was going to town for lunch anyway."

"Great!" Irvine clambered in the passenger seat, grunted into his knees, and pushed the seat as far back as he could get it without winding up in the trunk. "Where are we going?"


"I was expecting at least tablecloths," Irvine said, as Quistis settled onto the bench opposite him. The restaurant, if it could be called that, was a long low building off the dock, and rain thudded comfortably on the tin roof. Their table was little more than a glorified picnic table, covered in white butcher paper. For all that, the place was densely packed, residents as well as some recently freed students and their families, and a few savvy-looking tourists. "What exactly is the specialty, here?"

"Local." Quistis said, as the waitress unceremoniously plopped two bottles of Sylkis Amber Draft on the table between them. "Trust me, you won't have had it in Galbadia."

"The fabled Balamb fish?" Irvine arched his eyebrows.

"Oh, please, Balamb fish is only good for two weeks in the fall. Only tourists eat it the rest of the time, and trust me, it came out of the freezer. This is the real thing."

"Can't fault the beer," Irvine said, trying to see what was being served the next table over. "Just doesn't seem like your sort of place."

Quistis looked at Irvine in a way she specially reserved for students who had erroneously answered a very simple question. "Really Irvine. And what is my sort of place?"

"Well," Irvine said, stalling. "I don't know, maybe that little cafe up by the train station, the one all the girl students love and complain they can't afford."

"Three Sylphs?" Quistis said, with great distaste. "I get enough tittering and squealing in the school cafeteria, Irvine." She demurely twisted the top off her beer bottle with a delicate flick of her fingers, as though it was nothing less than champagne. "When I go out to eat, I want food. Not an overpriced ├ęclair and frivolity."

Irvine crossed his elbows on the table. "I like a woman who knows what she wants."

Quistis sipped her beer. "Hmm, yes. You're just so picky." Quistis leaned in to be heard over the ambient noise, and Irvine couldn't help but notice the nice view afforded by her neckline. "Irvine, does anything come out of your mouth that isn't a pickup line?"

Irvine tilted closer, his smile too easy, his eyes not entirely on Quistis' face. "I've yet to hear any complaints about my mouth, Quisty."

"How about the fact that it's never shut?"

"I find that most like it better open."

"I'm hardly most, Irvine."

"You're right," Irvine said, and there wasn't really more than the width of the two beer bottles between them, "I'd say you're damn near extraordinary." Irvine was moving in for the kill now, it was really all the same, after this point, and not even the famed Quistis Trepe was immune. A little romantic dinner, a kiss, and then that nice lookout point over the beach. Irvine had, of course, taken the time to note that the Garden car had a very copious backseat. He was a pro, after all, and there really wasn't anything that could throw off his moves now.

But then, he hadn't counted on having a half-bushel of dead crustaceans dumped between them.

"Euugh!" was Irvine's response, and a very practical one, as far as he was concerned, having had since childhood a very deep and irrational aversion to anything large and spidery. "The hell--"

"Took long enough," Quistis said, as though there was nothing amiss about the tangle of claws and eyestalks and legs on their table. "I'm starving."

"Quistis," Irvine said, in a tight sort of voice he had not used since his own early school days, when he lost a bet and had to fire a modified antique Ulysses with the stock braced in his crotch, "what are these?"

"Balamb blue crabs," Quistis said, picking one out of the pile and wrenching its legs off with a practiced twist. "First of the season. I have them every year for my end of finals party. Missed them last year, though." She snapped the discarded legs between her fingers. "Use the mallet on the shell, crackers on the legs if you need them, and don't eat the gills."

Irvine stared at the joints on the belly-up crab in front of him, and the beady black eyes that he could swear were giving him an accusing look. "Quisty, sorry to say, I'm not in the habit of eating anything that's still staring at me."

"Oh don't be such a big baby." Quistis picked up Irvine's crab, whacked it, and broke it neatly in half. "Anything steamed in this much beer can't be bad. Would I eat it, otherwise?"

Irvine waved an accusing finger over his dismembered lunch. "I've seen you eat entire hexdragons, missy. And T-rexes. And the bite bugs! You were picking segmented blue legs out of your teeth for a week!"

"I was junctioned to Eden, Irvine." Quistis blew at her hair, since her long fingers were greasy with flecks of crab and lurid red spices. "We all ate T-rexes. And actually the bite bugs were kind of good."

Irvine made an inarticulate noise in his throat, and Quistis waved her mallet at him. "I don't believe this. What are you, ten? Come on." she leaned in again, and while her cleavage was still stunning, the open carnage in front of her was a little off-putting. "Or should I tell my fan club that Irvine Kinneas, sorceress slayer, is afraid of an ickle dead crab?"

Irvine glowered, palms flat on the table. "Fine." he said, and without thinking too hard about what he was doing and trying not to wince, scooped up a handful of crab innards, and ate them.

"Well?" Quistis asked, as Irvine swallowed thoughtfully. "You're not turning green or gagging or anything."

"The first guy to eat one of these ugly things," Irvine said, "must have been really fucking hungry." He poked gingerly in the inside of the crab. "What's the yellow stuff?"

"Mustard," Quistis said. "At least, that's what it's called. I think it's the pancreas or something."

"I'll stick to legs," Irvine said, very quickly, and while Quistis laughed, she pushed her pile of unharvested legs towards Irvine.

"Fair enough. I like the bodies better anyway."

"They aren't bad," Irvine said, snapping one and feeling rather pleased at the smooth section of crabmeat that slid out of it. "If I don't think about it too much."

"Most food is," Quistis said, as Irvine moved on to a claw. "Trouble with you is, you're afraid of anything new."

"I'm willing to learn," Irvine said, realizing that at an intimate little cafe, Quistis would probably not be sucking on her fingers with such earnest abandon. "Instructor."

She looked at him then, little finger still in her mouth, and something about her eyes made Irvine feel as though the crab legs he just ate were scuttling around alive inside him. "Well, we'll just have to see, won't we?"

Irvine smiled back, feeling somehow that he had still managed to come out ahead. It wasn't as though they ate anything with tentacles or suckers or anything really disgusting.

He as yet had no idea that Quistis' favorite food was really octopus.


~o~





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