It's funny how things often have a way of coming full circle.
"… So then it turns out all along we was supposed to be bringin' the adamant alloy, not the mysidia alloy!" Qrrog finished.
I laughed. "Oh, dude!" I said. "That's so ironic!"
"Right?" Qrrog said, rubbing his seeq snout. "Aye, me ol' pirate crew botched that job somethin' bad. But at least it gives us somethin' to laugh about now."
"Seriously," I said, leaning against my husband's shoulder as he put an arm around me. We were in Moorabella on a frosty Plumfrost evening—not on clan business, but because Qrrog was able to arrange some time away from pirate-ruling and mission-going, for a good old-fashioned vacation.
We like to see the sights around Ivalice whenever we can, but doing so during clan work often means we still miss out on a lot. So when we visit places on vacation, we enjoy really taking our time to explore our destination. For example, we'd heard great things about this restaurant in Moorabella and we wanted to give it a try. It seemed like every other family in the city had the same idea, because the waiting area was filled with couples and children, and we were informed it would be about a half hour's wait before a table opened up for us.
Not that we minded—it just gave us even more time to chat and entertain the kids who were growing impatient. Many of their parents looked at Qrrog rather strangely – it wasn't usual to see a seeq at such an upscale establishment – but we ignored their prejudice. If they didn't want to accept my husband because of his race, they were the ones missing out.
"Qrrog, party of two?" the maître d' called out.
"Right 'ere," Qrrog said, standing up and offering me a hand to help me to my feet. At the entrance to the dining room, a tan-skinned hume waitress met us with two menus.
She did a bit of a double-take when she saw Qrrog, and I couldn't blame her, but she recovered quickly. "Er—my name is Ceneth," she said, "and I'll be your server today." Although she wore a polite smile and her smooth black hair was done up neatly, I could see in her dark eyes that she was tired, and I felt bad for her. It made me all the more determined to be extra-nice to her, and I knew Qrrog felt the same way. At the same time, I couldn't help but feel like she looked vaguely familiar, although I couldn't put my finger on why, exactly.
"Thanks kindly," my husband said as Ceneth showed us to our table. It was positioned next to a window that overlooked the city, and as I took my seat I gazed out at the snow-covered roofs and glittering lamplight. It looked so picturesque, like an old-timey Christmas card from back on Earth.
Of course, it was even better because I was sitting here warm and cozy—although I'd never say no to a good romp in the snow. When it snows on Worgen Island, we get into all sorts of fun. Our resident Assassin's kids like to organize large-scale snow battles, and Qrrog and I somehow get pulled into them every time. Probably because we can't say no to kids.
"Can I start you off with anything to drink?" Ceneth asked.
"Two orders of yer finest hot cocoa, please," Qrrog said with a grin.
Ceneth blinked at him—probably not used to a seeq saying "thanks" and "please". "Ah—coming right up," she said, turning away to the kitchen.
I watched her go and said, "Did she…"
"Seem familiar?" Qrrog finished. Yes, we're one of those couples who complete each other's sentences. "Aye, she did," my husband said, "although I can't quite remember why."
"Oh good, it's not just me," I said. I rubbed my chin. "Ivalice is a big place, but we've been all over it, so of course we'd run into people more than once… but it's bothering me that I can't remember where I've seen her before. I know this is our first time eating at this restaurant."
"Right, I know the feelin'," Qrrog said, narrowing his eyes and sticking out his tongue a bit in concentration. "It drives ye crazy because ye can't for the life of ye figure out where you've seen somebody before."
"Arrrggghhh exactly," I said, tugging at my long tawny hair. "Well… at least she's our waitress tonight. Maybe something about her will jog our memory." Yes, we're also one of those couples who refer to ourselves in the plural like a two-person hive-mind collective. When I was single, I got super annoyed at couples who did that, but now I just can't help myself—Qrrog is my other half and I know he feels the same way about me.
Qrrog nodded and looked out the window. "I s'pose there's no sense getting ourselves worked up about it," he said with a smile. "Moorabella sure is pretty at night, ain't it?"
I settled down from my mostly-pretend furor and followed his gaze back to the rooftops. "Sure is," I said. "You know, whenever we come here, it reminds me of when I first came to Ivalice. Moorabella was the city where I registered as a White Mage and officially created Clan Excelsior with Saskia and Coele." I rested my elbow on the table. "That feels like so long ago, although it's only been what, like five years?"
"Well, a lot's happened since then," Qrrog said. "I find that makes time seem to pass slower. It's the days when yer not doin' much that seem to drag on forever, and then feel like no time at all once they're passed."
"That's true," I said.
Ceneth came back with two steaming mugs of hot cocoa. As she set them on the table, she looked at Qrrog funny again, and then stared at me as well. "Er—are you ready to order?" she asked.
Qrrog scrutinized her for a moment and then picked up his menu. "Aye, I'd like to try yer roast crushatrice," he said. "Medium-well."
"And you?" Ceneth asked me as she jotted down his order.
"I'll have the dumplings in cheese sauce," I said as I handed her my menu.
She nodded. "The food will be out in a bit," she said, and as she turned to leave she took one last glance at us over her shoulder. I began to think that this wasn't just about seeing a seeq in a classy restaurant anymore.
Qrrog narrowed his eyes a bit at her. "Somethin's odd," he muttered. "I'm not sure I liked the way she was lookin' at ye."
A knot formed in my stomach. I trusted my husband's intuition, but I didn't want to believe anything bad was going on. As far as I knew, we didn't have any enemies in Moorabella—our clan and our pirates were pretty highly regarded in Jylland.
Turning back to me, Qrrog smiled a bit when he noticed my discomfort. "I'm sorry, love," he said. "I didn't mean to scare ye. She doesn't seem like she's got ill intentions. It's just strange the way she keeps starin' at us."
"She must remember us from somewhere, too," I said, my stomach relaxing slightly. But only slightly, because I'm a worrywart like that. I chuckled a little. "It must be also driving her crazy not being able to pin down where she's seen us before."
"Aye, I s'pose so," Qrrog said. "Don't worry, sweetheart, I'll look out for ye, whatever's goin' on."
"I know you will," I said with a smile. My husband likes to act like a goof, but he's really fiercely protective. And as a seven-foot-tall seeq with a battleaxe, few people try to cause trouble when he's around, anyway.
He leaned over both our mugs. "Before we start on that cocoa…" he said, and he inhaled deeply. Seeq have an acute sense of smell, and I knew he was sniffing for poison.
The idea unsettled me quite a bit – it's never a pleasant thing to think about, especially when you're on a date – but we're the better-safe-than-sorry type, and I knew our waitress had piqued his suspicion. I did my part by reaching out with my magick to detect anything off about the cocoa.
"Everythin' checks out," Qrrog said, sitting back with a smile, and I nodded as I withdrew my mental mist-reach.
As we nursed our warm chocolatey drinks, I looked back to the glistening city outside, watching the occasional vehicle or person pass on the street below. The lanes were more crowded during daytime—and when it wasn't snowing. Right now, the streets were practically deserted, although every building's windows glowed. In the distance, an enormous airship took off from the aerodrome, its lights twinkling against the black sky.
Thinking about the first time I'd ever seen Moorabella brought back all sorts of other memories, too. "Qrrog," I said, looking back to him, "I just realized—why did you ever ask me out in the first place when you knew I wasn't staying in Ivalice?"
My husband blinked, and it took him a moment to compose an answer. He's usually so quick-witted that he can respond to anything in no time, so I could tell this was something he was really thinking about as he scratched at his snout with one claw. "You know," he finally said slowly, "I'm not quite sure if I have a reasonable answer fer that, love. All I can tell ye is that it felt right. I felt like if I couldn't get up the courage to ask ye out on a date, I'd forever regret it." He grinned. "After all, folks do crazy things when they're in love."
I laughed and reached over to give his hand a squeeze. "I'm glad you listened to your gut," I said. "To be honest, I was resigned to having to go back to Earth, even though I didn't want to… but on that date with you, I felt like I'd finally found where I belonged, what I'd been looking for my whole life. I couldn't destroy that. So I destroyed my Grimoire instead. It's because of you that I'm still here."
"Ah, now, I can't take credit fer that," Qrrog said. "It's all been you, Brighteyes. After all, if not fer you I'd still be plunderin' on the seas."
"Thank you," I said, "but I never made you join the clan. It was your choice. So I think we both deserve credit for rising to the occasion. How's that?"
"Thanks, love," Qrrog said with a smile. "You always have a way of makin' it so everybody wins."
"That's the best solution, after all," I said. "But now I'm curious—why did you join Clan Excelsior in the first place? You had so much going for you as a pirate captain, and when you joined the clan you kind of had to start back at square one, being subordinate to Saskia."
My husband laughed. "Sweetheart," he said, "I was head o'er heels for ye since the moment ye healed me after shovin' a Holy spell in me face. I'd never met a girl before who'd do somethin' so brave and bold—and then follow it up with somethin' so kind. You impressed me somethin' fierce, and I wanted to follow ye to the ends of Ivalice."
"Thanks," I said with a grin. "I'm really impressed by you, too. You're brave and strong, you always stick up for what's right, and you never abandon anyone in need. And you're seriously the nicest guy I've ever met."
"You flatter me," Qrrog said, glowing with the praise. He cleared his throat a bit and grinned roguishly. "But also I didn't wanna go to prison," he said. "So thanks for getting' me outta that one."
I snorted. "Yeah, I kinda figured that was part of it," I said.
"Here you are," Ceneth said as she set down two platters of food. The dishes' savory aroma enveloped us and made my tongue water.
"Thanks kindly!" Qrrog said. "It looks amazin'!"
"Yes, it's beautiful!" I said. Yes, I knew she hadn't cooked the food herself, but no waiter or waitress needs to hear complaints about the food they're serving.
"Good," Ceneth said with a smile, although it didn't quite reach to her eyes as she glanced at us again. "Let me know if you need anything else."
"We will," Qrrog said, and as she left he and I checked again to make sure the food was safe. Neither of us could detect anything off—except for some overdone tidbits of roast that would have been unhealthy for a hume but a seeq could handle just fine. So we tucked in.
"Oooh, this cheese sauce is delicious," I said. "And the vegetables are perfectly cooked! How's your roast?"
"Fantastic!" Qrrog said as he carved himself another large bite of meat. "Crushatrices sure are good eatin'!"
I sighed in contentment. "Thanks for enjoying your food," I said. "It's really, really nice to be married to someone who doesn't criticize everything." I paused. "Or criticize me for enjoying life."
Qrrog swallowed his food. "Now why would I do a stupid thing like that?" he asked with a smile.
"That's what a lot of people back on Earth would do," I said, my gaze dropping to the table. "They were always so dour and angry… I felt like I couldn't even smile without hearing some snide remark from them. To them, there was nothing positive or good about life, and anyone who thought otherwise was a fool and needed to be sternly corrected." I looked back up at my husband. "So thank you for enjoying my happiness. It really means a lot to me."
"O'course," Qrrog said, nodding. I knew he understood. Neither of us had grown up in the best circumstances—or even good circumstances, really. That was why we could support and comfort each other so meaningfully. "Nothin' makes me happier than to see you happy, love." He grinned. "And thanks for seein' me as more than just a weird seeq with an oddball sense o' humor."
"I feel bad for anyone who can't see past that," I said. "They're missing out."
"Thanks," Qrrog said, ponderously taking another bite of crushatrice. "It's always been kinda hard gettin' folks to take me seriously… but I just couldn't get meself to be nasty and pushy the way most seeq are. Kindness always gets better results in the end. As yer well aware of."
"That's right," I said. "I'm proud of you for realizing that. That's part of why I love you so much. You have the strength to be kind when most people would take the lazy way of anger and fear. And if anybody gives you grief, they'll have to answer to me!"
Qrrog laughed. "Don't you worry yer pretty li'l head about that," he said. "I know how to take care o' folks. But I do appreciate yer hugs and kind words when those people have got me feelin' discouraged. I love knowin' that I've got a safe place with you—that you'll always lift me up again and give me strength, that you understand me like nobody else."
"Of course," I said, "and I love that you do the same for me. I love you, sweetheart. I'm so blessed to be married to you."
"Likewise," Qrrog said. "I love you too—"
Our heartfelt sentiments were cut short by the crash of breaking dishes and a woman's yelp. Qrrog and I turned to see Ceneth and a viera woman sitting amid shattered glassware and spilled food.
"What are you doing, you numbskull?!" the viera asked as she picked herself up and made a disgusted face at the soup dripping down her shirt. "You just ruined someone's order!"
"I—I'm sorry—" Ceneth stammered, her face bright red as every other patron of the restaurant looked at them.
The viera's ears turned back. "Why didn't you watch were you were going," she hissed, "instead of staring at that seeq and hume couple like they'd grown extra limbs?!"
I glanced over at Qrrog and I could tell he felt just as bad as I did. For whatever reason – hopefully not malicious – we'd been the cause of this, and Ceneth looked genuinely embarrassed.
I grabbed our spare napkins, and at the same time, both of us stood up and made our way over to the two. We didn't have to say a word to each other—two-person hive-mind collective, remember?
"What's the problem, 'ere?" Qrrog asked the two waitresses as I handed them the napkins and gently nudged Ceneth out of the pile of broken glass. Thankfully, neither of them looked hurt.
"My apologies, sir," the viera sniffed. "My coworker is a moron."
"I said I was sorry!" Ceneth said, her voice breaking.
"I think it'd help more," Qrrog said, kindly but firmly, "if you went to the kitchen and asked fer help cleanin' this up."
"She should be the one doing that!" the viera said, pointing to Ceneth. "It's her fault!"
"She already feels terrible enough about it as it is," Qrrog said. "How's about we make things better and not leave any hurt feelin's?"
Whether my husband's words actually got through to her, or she was trained well enough to know not to argue with a customer, the viera frowned and stalked away to the kitchen.
"I'm sorry," Ceneth said again, wringing her hands, unable to look either of us in the face.
Qrrog put a hand on her shoulder. "Now then," he said kindly, "what's goin' on? You've been lookin' at us odd all evenin'." That's my husband for you—even when he's well aware someone could be plotting against him, he treats them like an old friend who needs his help. When she did not respond, he walked her over to our table and prompted her to sit down next to me, next to the window, where she could have a little more privacy.
Ceneth stared down at her hands, swallowed hard, and looked up at him, then to me. "You—you were in Graszton a few years back," she said. "My boyfriend and I interrupted your date."
My husband and I looked at each other and our eyes widened as everything fell into place. No wonder she looked familiar, although now she wore a lot less makeup and less fancy clothes. Neither of us would ever forget our first date—least of all because that was when I destroyed my Grimoire. But we also wouldn't forget how she and a guy who was totally full of himself decided to sit on the terrace near us and make prejudiced remarks about Qrrog, and about me for dating him.
"Oh, right," Qrrog said. He scratched the back of his head. "Err, hope yer beau's doin' okay after I decked him fer insultin' me sweetheart. But nobody gets away with that on my watch."
Ceneth's gaze dropped again. "It… he deserved it," she said quietly. "I should be the one apologizing. We were horrible to you two. I used to be so caught up in making myself look good, I thought putting other people down would lift me up…"
"I'm sorry," I said. "Sounds like you were having a rough time of things."
"I hope yer fella's come around, too," Qrrog said.
Ceneth grimaced. "I broke up with him a few months ago," she admitted. "He was really a terrible person… but he was rich, and that was all I cared about—until one day I woke up and realized it wasn't what I wanted—" She sniffed back a sob, and I handed her another napkin.
"Now that's a real shame," Qrrog said as Ceneth buried her face in the napkin. "But you did good gettin' yerself outta that. No woman deserves to be treated ill."
"Th-thank you," Ceneth said, wiping away a few last tears. "So that's why I was staring at you—I remembered the two of you, and I remembered how you stuck up for each other when we started flinging insults. And tonight, hearing you be so kind to each other, happy with each other, expressing your love and appreciation for each other—" She ducked her face back into the napkin and let out another sob. "I want something like that so badly," she croaked, "but I don't know if I'll ever get it."
By this point more kitchen staff had arrived to help clean up the mess. People were still watching Ceneth, but Qrrog gave them a look like they should probably mind their own business, and they got the hint, turning back to their food.
Tentatively, I put my arm around the woman's shoulders. "Don't give up," I said. "I know it looks hopeless now, but you never know where that right guy is going to come into your life. When I was single, I felt the same way. I thought I was too weird for anybody to ever like me." I grinned. "But then Qrrog joined my clan, and he's just as weird as I am, so he doesn't mind my weirdness at all!"
Qrrog laughed. "I like yer weirdness, Brighteyes," he said. "Normal is borin'." He looked over at Ceneth. "She's right. I believe there's a guy out there waitin' fer someone like you. So you believe that yer gonna find him when the time's right."
"I'll try," Ceneth whispered.
"Hey! Ceneth!" a bangaa called from the site of the accident. "Are you goin' to help us clean this up, or what?"
"Ah—I'm coming," Ceneth said, looking flustered again.
"How's about you give her a bit of a break?" Qrrog asked. "She's been through a lot lately, and you lot look like you've got things under control." He smiled. "'Sides, she's our waitress and we're ready fer dessert. What would you recommend?" he asked.
The question seemed to catch Ceneth off guard, but it at least distracted her from everything else going on. "Ah… our chocolate cake is really popular," she said. "The ganache between the layers has berries mixed into it."
"Do you like it?" Qrrog asked.
"Um… yes, it's my favorite dessert here," Ceneth said, again looking confused.
"Then we'll take a whole one o' those," Qrrog said. At her surprised expression, he winked. "I could eat a whole half a cake by meself, trust me."
"It's true," I said with a smile. That is one seeq stereotype that my husband lives up to quite well.
"O-okay then," Ceneth said as I stood up so she could get out of the booth. "I'll… be back soon with that cake."
"Ceneth!" the bangaa said again as she moved past him.
"I'm getting an order!" she said, not even slowing as she pushed open the kitchen doors.
Qrrog and I watched her go, happy to see her sticking up for herself. Yes, I can tell when my husband and I are thinking the same thing. We've got that hive-mind telepathy going. Or I've known him long enough that I'm a really accurate judge of his personality, and I know just how much he cares about other people.
The staff finished cleaning up, and things largely went back to normal in the restaurant, although a few other patrons still gave us odd looks. This time, I was pretty sure the staring was because they'd never seen a nice seeq before. It was about time, I thought.
A short while later, Ceneth came back out with an entire chocolate cake, just like Qrrog had ordered, with glossy frosting and bright berries on top. My mouth started watering again.
"Beautiful!" Qrrog said as Ceneth set it on the table.
"Do you need anything else?" she asked, giving us dessert forks and more napkins.
My husband grinned. "Remember how I told ye I could eat about half a cake by meself?" he asked. "Well, me wife here has got a stomach way smaller than mine… so we could use some help finishin' the thing."
It took Ceneth a moment to catch on, but when she did, her eyes widened. "You—you want me to—" she stammered.
"Dig in!" I said, patting the seat beside me.
"Oh, but I'm on the clock," Ceneth said, although she could not take her eyes off of the cake.
"I'll compensate fer that," Qrrog said. "But you need some cheerin' up, right now."
Ceneth sank into the booth next to me, and Qrrog cut her a fat slice of cake. As she took the first bite, her eyes watered again. "I don't understand why you're being so kind," she said.
"Because there's no reason not to be," Qrrog said firmly. "I don't wait fer folks to earn me help. You eat yer fill and we'll pay yer manager later."
For the first time, Ceneth's smile was genuine, and she closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the cake. "Thank you," she said. "I hope I find someone as kind as you."
"Don't settle for anything less," I said. "Not worth it."
"Tell me about it," Ceneth said, taking another bite of cake.
She ended up eating that entire slice, and as she ate she talked to us. She was from Graszton originally—her grandfather had been a wealthy merchant, but some bad business deals left him penniless before Ceneth was born. She had grown up knowing only poverty, which explained why she had been so hungry for wealth and social status.
"Do you have any plans now?" I asked her as she finished the last of her cake.
Ceneth shook her head. "I didn't realize how much I depended on my boyfriend financially," she said, "until all that money went away. He would even help pay my rent… now I'm working this and another job just to be able to afford a tiny place and put some food on the table."
"What do you want to do?" I asked. "Any dream jobs?"
She chuckled self-consciously. "I never had any dream jobs," she admitted. "All growing up, all I ever wanted to be was rich. I just thought somehow money would fall into my lap someday."
"You know what I think?" Qrrog asked. "If you learned good, honest ways to make money, you could not only become rich yerself, but help others do the same. I bet there are a lot of folks in yer situation, and unfortunately many of 'em turn to crime. Somebody's gotta show 'em the right way—and who better than someone who's been where they are?"
Ceneth's eyes lit up and she nodded. "Yes… I like that idea," she said. "Thank you. To be honest, I always thought my grandfather's job was fascinating. I think I'd like to go into business—and learn from my grandfather's mistakes."
"Wonderful," Qrrog said. "I think you'll make a first-rate businesswoman. Want any more cake?"
"Ooh… no, I shouldn't," Ceneth said. "I'm all full from that slice. You enjoy the rest, thanks."
"Could you get us a box for it, actually?" Qrrog asked.
Ceneth obliged and retrieved a large cake box for us. Qrrog picked up the rest of the cake and gently set it into the box, closed the lid, and pushed it toward Ceneth. "That's fer you," he said.
Her jaw dropped. "Are you serious?" she asked.
"Absolutely," Qrrog said with a grin.
"Is there anything I can do for you two in return?" Ceneth said. "You've been so nice to me, I don't know how I can repay you…"
"I'll tell you how," Qrrog said. "Remember what we talked about tonight. Remember the decisions you made. And remember, when you get rich, to use that money to help folks. That's what you can do fer us—pass it on."
Ceneth nodded slowly. "I will," she said, hugging the cake box. "I will. Thank you."
"Welp, I think it's time fer us to set off," Qrrog said, standing up. "After we talk to yer manager about compensatin' fer yer time, I mean."
"I should get back to work," Ceneth said as she and I got up as well. "But my shift's almost over—and then I can take this cake home." She smiled down at the dessert in her arms. "And look into some opportunities to get into business."
"I hope you have fun," I said, taking my husband's hand. "And, you never know who you might meet along the way."
Ceneth's face brightened. "Right," she said.
We exchanged goodbyes, and then we went and talked the whole situation out with her manager, who was very understanding, especially because Qrrog overpaid him for taking up Ceneth's time. Then we faced the crisp cold of a Moorabella night as we walked back to our inn.
"Great choice of restaurant," I said to my husband as we strolled down the street.
"If I recall," he said, "you were the one who first wanted to try that place."
"Oh—I can't even remember anymore," I said. I looked up at the dark sky as tiny snowflakes drifted into the lamplight. "Do you think Ceneth will ever find a good guy?" I asked.
Qrrog smiled. "I say, if you and I found each other despite the odds," he said, "then she's sure to find her other half. And now she's got somethin' to occupy her until she does. I think she'll do a lotta good while she's waitin'."
"I think so, too," I said. I gave his hand a squeeze and we continued down the street, one happy two-person hive-mind collective.