Disclaimer: I'm not lucky enough to own any of the characters or settings involved. Squaresoft is a creative genius; all hail the powerful video game god, yadda yadda yadda.
Author's Note: There is no real plot to this piece. Just simple interaction between two friends who come to a mutual understanding over the course of an intimate conversation. I dedicate this to Jason, who has always been the Irvine to my Quistis. I miss you, buddy!
"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them"
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Stuck in a Moment
And if the night
And if the day won't last
And if your way should falter
Along this stony pass
It's just a moment
This time will pass
Exeter. Long of barrel and silver of construction. It was a weapon designed to kill from a far distance. It was an impersonal weapon. The bearer could stand far from the action, watching, measuring, and then with a simple tug on the trigger, dictate the outcome of another's life. All it took was an instant, a simple, heart pounding, and pulse-rushing instant to change one's destiny. Hesitation was not an option.
Maximum use of the weapon took more than a steady hand. One had to remain cool in the head, detached in the brain, to wield such a sinister power. Unlike the comments of its many critics, Exeter was not a tool to be used by the unskilled. The speed of the bullet and the direction of the hit depended solely on the aim and technique of the sniper. If one was untrained the barrel could slip, the target wave, and the result end up disastrous. Despite outside appearances it was the perfect choice for a man like Irvine Kinneas.
He had always been a man of appreciation for the finer things in life. Believed in loyalty and trust above all else but like most young men, was attracted to danger and the thrill of the unpredictable. He was a romantic. Portrayed himself as the lonely hero, filled with the wanderlust, the only antidote to sooth his aching soul. He was a cowboy, courageous and levelheaded. Capable of saving the damsel in distress and eliminating the bad guy without breaking a sweat. All in a day's work. He'd spend the evening strumming out his lost soul on his guitar, the only outlet for the permanent weight upon his heart. This was his persona. No one understood him.
If what they say is true, that everyone has one defining moment in their life, than Irvine believed his was the night of the parade twenty-two months ago. The night he failed to assassinate Edea Kramer, sorceress and surrogate mother of six. He didn't regret not carrying out his mission. Not anymore. But he felt it was that instant that truly defined his character. In the battle between love and duty, for him, love always won out. In his heart, he knew they were intertwined. He was a SeeD but he was also a son. The latter would always come first.
Irvine pondered over this as he leaned forward in his chair. He rested his long arms on the top rung and stretched his legs out in front of him as far as he could sat in a straddling position. Almost violet eyes observed the fall of bright morning sunshine onto the crystallized glass tabletop from the cafeteria's angled windows. Mini rainbows danced before his careful gaze.
In front of him sat a fellow warrior. The other man's spirit was of a different tone but equally high. Vigorous, while Irvine was more laid back, however both were untamed.
Zell Dincht munched on the last few bites of his hot dog and scanned the latest issue of his favourite martial arts magazine. His free hand drummed out a beat on the table, complimenting the one his sneakered foot played out on the floor. Eventually he swallowed his last taste of wiener and bun and closed the glossy cover. He continued his drumming with both hands.
Irvine grinned at his friend, grateful for the little things that would never change. "'Sup, Zell."
Zell shrugged and quit his rhythmic beat on the table to run a hand through the spiky blond locks he'd sported for as long as he could remember. "Not much. I may head to the training centre before helping Selphie with party stuff."
With the raise of an eyebrow, Irvine adjusted his casual position in the chair. "Really now. You're like the first person I know to voluntarily join her party schemes."
"It's not that bad." Zell looked down at his tray with a touch of sadness. "'Sides, if I didn't agree she'd be on my case for weeks." He shuddered. "There's nothing I can't stand more than her whining. The hassle's worth it."
The other man had to laugh at that. It was a full-bodied sound that rumbled from his chest. He flicked his long, auburn ponytail back over one shoulder and smiled extra wide for the benefit of possible female onlookers. He played his part well.
"She roped ya good, buddy." Irvine shook his head. "I adore my Sefie, really I do, but nothin's worth putting up with her orders."
"I can hold my own against her." Zell grinned again and wiggled his eyebrows. "I know her weaknesses. There's not much to do around here anyway until the next mission comes up. And the party's for Rinoa's welcome back, right? So it's all good."
Realizing he no longer had his friend's attention, he followed the gaze of Irvine's eyes, glancing over his shoulder and spotting the girl seated at the next table, currently absorbed in her book. He rolled his eyes. The guy needed a new hobby. "Anyway, I gotta jet of I want to get some training in this morning." Rising to his full height of five feet five inches, he blocked Irvine's line of sight. "She has a boyfriend."
The cowboy's interest refocused. "You sure?"
"Yep." Zell rolled his magazine in his gloved hands. "Fire platoon. Great aim from what I hear." Chuckling he headed for the doors across the tiled floor. "See ya 'round, Kinneas."
Irvine lifted a hand to acknowledge his friend's departure but turned his eyes back to the raven-haired SeeD candidate. Willing to test the waters, he caught her eye and let forth with his best megawatt, lopsided smile and flirtatious wink. The expression Selphie had nicknamed his "How you doin'" move.
The girl's eyes widened in surprise and she quickly turned back to her reading, straightening her shoulders. Not necessarily a bad sign as far as he was concerned. Now the next step was to…Dang.
A tall sandy-haired teenager dressed in a SeeD uniform approached her table carrying a tray laden with breakfast food. With a soft smile and quiet greeting he sat next to her. She, in turn, closed her book, and with a brief glance in Irvine's direction, leaned over to kiss her boyfriend's cheek. Zell had been right after all.
Irvine averted his gaze and pulled the brim of his black hat lower. Ah well. You win some you lose some. Although he considered himself the best shot at Garden, he never poached.
"Mind if I join you?"
The congenial voice spoke from his left. Given the voice was also of a female quality, he shifted toward her with a slow, lazy grin. "Is that a trick question? I'm always willing to dally with a dazzling beauty like yourself."
Quistis Trepe laughed and slid herself onto the seat Zell had recently vacated. She placed her bottle of orange juice and plain bagel onto the glass table while studying the man through the lenses of her slim, wire-framed glasses. "You never give up, do you?"
"How could I?" Irvine leaned back to allow his eyes to trail over her, enjoying the game. "What charm could possibly die when it has such nourishment to feed it as your lovely nature? You are the unattainable ideal and until I have made you mine, I shall never give in."
She laughed again, shook her head and propped her chin against one hand. "I have no idea where you get these things from."
He lifted both hands and adopted an innocent expression. "It's pure Irvine Kinneas, baby."
"Oh, him." Wrinkling her nose, Quistis lowered her hand and returned her attention to the food set out before her. "I've always thought him pompous and overbearing."
Now it was his turn to chuckle. He stood to turn his chair back to its normal position so he could face his friend directly. Crossing his arms he gave her the once-over. For the first time that morning he realized his typical flippant comments had been accurate. "Seriously though, Quistis, you look great. I never knew Quistis Trepe wore anything except battle gear and SeeD uniforms."
"When she's off duty she does," the female stated dryly. Yet, she couldn't hide the pleasure she received upon detecting the warmth behind his words. Dressed in a knee-length pink floral skirt and golden yellow sleeveless top, she felt like a completely different person from the girl she'd been just a short while ago. It was a sunny outfit and she was in a sunny mood. It felt wonderful to let herself be happy for a change.
She tucked a loose golden strand of hair behind one ear. Her hair was up, as usual, but tied in a loose variation of a chignon, making her appear softer, approachable.
"Well, I must say, you look quite charming."
Quistis tilted her head before taking a bite out of her cream-cheese smothered bagel. "That's one I've yet to hear. You're getting more creative, Kinneas."
"What can I say?" Irvine spread his arms wide, startling a SeeD cadet who happened to be walking past with a full tray. "It's a skill." He lowered his arms without taking notice of the poor teen's plight. "I'm hoping to seduce you with my witty repartee. Is it working?"
Her eyes narrowed in observation, as if she was considering his proposition. Her patrician features lightened into a winning smile. "Not a chance." His look of pure dejection had her laughing again, openly, gaily. As if she didn't have a worry in her head.
It was a wonderful sight, Irvine reflected. The sunshine lighting up her blue eyes so they almost glowed. Her pale complexion flushed with amusement. She looked sincerely happy. He couldn't remember ever seeing her that way until recently. For too long she had been self-conscious, uncertain, masking her emotions behind a prim and mature demeanour. He'd been concerned she had forgotten how to live. For some reason, and he had a pretty good guess at what that was, all that had changed. Quistis had finally released all of her old insecurities and learned how to just be herself. She had blossomed into a woman with almost careless confidence. No longer did she hide behind a stack of papers and a distracted frown. They had all changed after the war almost two years ago, but Irvine figured she had changed the most.
Her eyes wandered around the cafeteria as she chewed on her breakfast, enjoying the familiarity of the setting. Balamb Garden was her home; she felt at peace there, secure in herself and her capabilities - something that had been proven to her time and again after the war.
Their conversation slid into further playful banter. They rallied back and forth, equally matched, enjoying the pleasure of one another's company. She loved the innuendo, the ease with which they could converse without fear of judgment or rejection. Though wary of the teenager's carefree deportment at first, Quistis had grown accustomed to Irvine's manner and found herself appreciating the sincere friendship he had to offer underneath his cavalier veneer. Irvine was a man a girl could trust.
"Are you planning on helping Selphie decorate this afternoon?" she heard Irvine ask as she tuned back into the present. "I would but I have my rank twenty-four test to study for."
"Heck, no." Quistis snorted, unscrewing the cap on her juice bottle with a slight popping sound. "I'd rather fight a Malboro."
It was Irvine's turn to tilt his head to the side. His expression became serious. "You don't like her do you?"
The sudden solemnity of his tone surprised her into stopping the lip of the bottle inches from her mouth. "Who? Selphie? Of course I do. Just not when she's playing dictator." Quistis lifted a brow. "The girl is imperceptibly strong." She took a sip of the juice now, allowing the bitter taste to flood into her mouth.
"You know who I meant." Irvine crossed his arms over the front of his vest. Idly, she noted how the colour matched his eyes, dark and evocative. There was no way out of this conversation.
"I – I don't not like her." Quistis hated being questioned so openly about her feelings. She wasn't used to it. Especially not from Irvine, the self-proclaimed, one-track mind ladies man. Therefore, she found herself floundering for her next words. "Our personalities clash, is all. Rinoa is sweet, artless, the consummate damsel in distress." She fiddled with a loose tendril of hair on her forehead.
"While you are not, nor will you ever be, a damsel of any kind." Irvine finished for her, his old grin back in place. He recalled an argument they'd had ages ago, during the war, when he'd covered a hit for her in battle. He'd received a vehement tongue lashing in response to his efforts. Irvine still remembered the words she'd used that day perfectly.
"Exactly." Quistis nodded, knowing he understood her. "We're too different."
Irvine considered her words for a moment. "Well, you know," he began carefully, gauging her expression. "You two do have one like thing in common."
Curious, she leaned back in her seat to observe him. "And what's that?"
"You both have the same taste in men."
She winced and put both hands to her forehead. Quistis closed her eyes for a brief moment before lowering her arms and looking at him directly. "Ugh." She rolled her eyes and groaned. "Don't I know it. But don't think that fact doesn't bother me." With a shake of her head and another wince she sighed. "It wasn't intentional, let me assure you."
Irvine's features remained impassive. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking. A fact that frustrated her more than anything. "Go ahead," she told him. "I already know what you're thinking. Scold me, tell me I've lost my mind, that I'm making a huge mistake and I'll regret it for the rest of my life. Tell me he's a loser. " She sighed again, with a self-mocking smile. "That he's not worth it." Her gaze lowered to the glass.
"Do you think he is, Quistis?"
There's that damn unreadable tone again. Did he always have to sound so, so reasonable? Quistis shifted in her seat, her eyes locked on a spot just above his right shoulder. "I don't know." A wry smile toyed with her lips. "It all happened so fast. I haven't been thinking about anything."
He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table and moving his back away from that of the chair. Irvine spoke softly, his voice low. "Are you in love with Seifer Almasy?"
The first four words had her jumping from her position. Her eyes swiftly darted to meet his. The expression in the blue depths was one of horror.
"No! God, no. I like to think I have more brains than that." She let out the breath of air she hadn't known she'd been withholding. "We're just…having fun." It sounded lame, even to her own ears, and at Irvine's blank look, she found herself rushing to better explain herself.
"I mean, I'm attracted to him and all, and we've been seeing each other a little but it's not…" Her voice trailed off and she tried again. "We're not…It's not serious."
Feeling a little guilty for making her squirm Irvine leaned back again and smiled. "It's okay, Quistis. You can't help how you feel. Sometimes it helps to talk it out."
She deflated, lifted a hand, and then let it fall. "I don't know how I feel." She moaned and bent her arms over the table, hiding her face in the crook of her elbow. After a few moments she raised her head and supported it with one fist. Her eyes were distressed. "Why can't things ever be simple? Why can't I just have a normal, uncomplicated relationship without worrying about where it's headed or whether or not we're properly suited for each other? Why can't I just live for the now?"
"You can." Irvine shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "What do you think my philosophy is? There's enough time for living in the future in the future. If we all started living in the present, we'd have a heck of a lot more fun."
"That's right!" Pleased, Quistis sat up. "We've got to live for the moment. Be who we are. We owe it to ourselves."
"So what if he's dangerous and has a jaded past? I like him that way." She sent him a dazzling smile, eyes dancing. "If you're going to go down…"
"Go down swinging!" Irvine answered. They both laughed, satisfied and complete. She scooted her chair closer in order to reach for his hand, squeezed it.
"Do you know what's better than someone who knows you inside out?"
"Nothing, absolutely nothing." Releasing his hand she cupped her own under her chin, easing her elbows on the table. Her eyes turned solemn, wistful, as she examined him for a few quiet minutes. With a long sigh, her gaze lightened once more.
"You know," she continued. "In a perfect world, I would fall in love with you, we would get married, move to a suburban house in Dollet with a white picket fence, two point five children, and a big white dog named Finnegan." Her expression turned rueful. "It would work, you and I. Life would be amazing. Perfect."
He lifted a brow, unsure of where she was heading with this new development. "But you're not in love with me."
She shook her head. "No. Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect. The fates aren't that benevolent."
"We could try it anyway," he suggested. "Give up on true love and act out that little scheme of yours as friends."
"We could." With a smile she lifted her hands to lace them at the back of her head. "But I still have hope that somewhere, out there, is the one who will sweep me off my feet. He's just taking the scenic route."
Irvine smiled as well, taking pleasure out of this exchange. As SeeD it wasn't often they had the opportunity to hang out like this, share their feelings and dreams. It was nice, really nice. "How's this," he moved forward again, eyes sparkling with ideas. "If neither of us has settled down by the time we're, say, thirty, we agree to marry each other, living out the rest of our days in domestic bliss, if not passionate love."
Quistis dropped her hands, deliberated, then beamed at him. "Make it thirty-five and you've got a deal." Her expression became coy, tone sly. "It may take you that long to find out you're in love with Selphie and I'd hate to cheat two of my best friends out of a hot romance."
This time it was Irvine who floundered for words. His jaw opened then closed, eyes shifting everywhere but in her direction. This was not a topic he wished to be discussing. "I don't know why everyone thinks I ought to be with Selphie." It came out as a muffled grumble as the lowered brim of his hat covered his mouth.
Quistis reached out to snag the brim with her fingers and yank the cowboy hat from his head. "Oh no, buster. You aren't getting out of this, not after what you made me go through." She held the hat out of reach. "Sometimes it helps to talk it out," she reminded him with a teasing smile.
Resigned, he let out a deep sigh of his own, his chest and broad shoulders collapsing. "Look, I don't know what my feelings for Selphie are, either. For now, we're content to just be friends. We're too young for anything serious. There's lots of time for that in the future. If anything does develop." His eyes refocused on Quistis. "But it may not. If we're meant then it'll happen. If not…" He chuckled. "I've got you now, right?"
"You really believe in fate?" Her tone was serious, probing.
"Why not? There's no harm in it, as long as you don't just sit around and wait for things to happen." He sat back and lifted a booted foot to rest on his opposite knee. "I mean, I want to believe in free will as much as the next guy, know that I make my own choices. But a nice little dash of destiny provides a little comfort, don't ya think?"
On impulse, Quistis slanted her body across the small table, closed her eyes and planted her mouth on his surprised lips. The kiss was soft, tender. His lips felt like velvet. He tasted like the maple syrup that she assumed he'd had for breakfast. To say it was pleasant would be an understatement, but to say it clouded her brain would be a lie. It was…charming.
Irvine quickly got over his initial astonishment and kissed her back with interest. Feelings of security and happiness washed over him as he deepened the intensity. The scent of peaches drifted over him and he sighed. If he had known she was this good he would have kissed her much sooner.
She wasn't aware how long it went on for but after a while she slowly pulled away, sat back down, and opened her eyes. "Damn."
He laughed, understanding her right away. "Till we're thirty-five?"
With another laugh, Quistis stood up to throw the remnants of her breakfast in the garbage bin off to the side. She brushed off her hands and waited for Irvine to rise as well. Smiling carelessly, she looped her arm through his and they started out of the cafeteria. "Who knows, Kinneas, who knows?