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19 September 2011 @ 07:41 pm
The Long Shot (2/6) [Balthier/Ashe; NC-17]  
Title: The Long Shot (2/6)
Author: chaineddove
Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Rating: NC-17 due to one scene in a later chapter, PG-13 otherwise
Genre: Romance
Pairing: Balthier/Ashe
Wordcount: 2,019
Disclaimer: I don't own FFXII (well, I do own a copy for my PS2...).
Authors' Notes: In this chapter, we move on to Balthier's point of view, and get a bit of insight about Ashe and Balthier's arrangement up until now. Fran and Vaan make appearances, and Larsa and Penelo get mentioned (for anyone who is wondering, yes, this does take place in the same universe as A Change of Perspective). Fran is, as always, ruthless and fabulous. Vaan, as always, puts both feet in his mouth (possibly to keep Fran from stepping on them, uh).

”It’s a long shot, but I said why not,
If I say forget it, I know that I’ll regret it,
It’s a long shot just to beat these odds,
The chance is we won’t make it,
But I know if I don’t take it, there’s no chance,
'Cause you’re the best I got…”

-Kelly Clarkson, “Long Shot”

Chapter 2

“I'm on the road to who knows where,
Look ahead, not behind , I keep saying
There's no place to go where you're not there…”

-OneRepublic, “Prodigal”

***


Fran graciously gives him the space to brood for the next two weeks, and although she doesn’t mention it, he can tell she disapproves. Most people cannot tell a disapproving viera from an indifferent viera, but he is not most people, and her ears tend to twitch just slightly when she is irritated. Two weeks into the courteous silence and the twitching ears and a lot of sky, he finally snaps, “Well, out with it. If you’re going to think so loudly, you may as well say it.”

She gives him a level look and responds, “I do not need to tell you when you are being a fool; you are perceptive enough, for a hume, and you can surely work it out yourself.”

“And what would you have me do, then?” he snarls. He knows he is spoiling for a fight but he cannot help himself. He has become accustomed to using short squalls to clear his mind, as Her Majesty is always willing to cross words, if not blades; he and Fran rarely argue, because they are too much alike in all of the most comfortable ways, but at this point, she is the only opponent readily available.

Of course, she is also less than cooperative; she shrugs one shoulder, an annoyed gesture, but her face remains impassive. “You wish to goad me, Balthier?”

“Maybe,” he says with some disgust.

“Very well, then,” she replies in an even tone. “If one of my sisters is foolish enough to form an attachment to something not of her wood, she is advised to throw herself at the mercy of the wild beasts until she is either cured of her fancy, or devoured.”

“I can see how well you followed that advice,” he mutters; as a viera adage it is exactly as merciless as can be expected.

Her ear twitches. “Yes,” she agrees. “You can see. For this foolishness, I am denied the embrace of the wood. So tell me, Balthier, how much do you value the embrace of the sky?” He curses, but she continues, pitiless. “I knew the answer to this question, once,” she says. “It is why I chose you. But I am no longer certain of it, and I do not think even you know, anymore.”

“You are uncommonly cruel today,” he tells her.

“I will bleed for you,” she responds matter-of-factly. “More telling, I will even lie for you. But I will not lie to you. My silence, therefore, was meant as a kindness.”

“That will teach me to ask for your opinion,” he says with a heavy sigh; if anything, he feels worse.

“Unlikely,” is her less-than-comforting outlook.

“Oh, go away,” he says. They know each other well enough that he trusts she will not be insulted; silently, she departs and leaves him alone with his sky. There is a storm coming, he thinks, and that should be distraction enough for anyone, but the gathering clouds make him think of a queen's eyes, brimming with tears as she sends him away.

***


The storm breaks overhead, and he lies awake that night, with the ship safely parked in a lonely stretch of desert and the wind buffeting her sides. He thinks of another stormy night, of rain on the glass of her window, of her heart pounding against his hand and her lips hot and hungry against his. He had raindrops in his hair, he recalls, and had nearly ended his life in the most ignominious way possible by slipping from the ledge of her window – but she had had an invitation in her eyes, when last they parted, and considering how long it had taken him to tease that invitation out of her, a few scrapes on his knuckles and one ruined vest seemed an insignificant price to pay. She had laughed at him for it, later. He remembers it well; at the beginning, she had laughed so rarely.

That night they had become lovers; she had come to him wrapped in silk and scent and shadows, and placed her hand over his lips, and asked him not to say anything at all as her hands drew his soaked clothing aside. Take what is offered and do not argue. She had ensorcelled him with no more than a touch and a whisper; he would, at that point, have promised her anything, but all she asked of him was silence as she took him apart.

I love you, she had told him when the storm had blown itself out and the night was silent. It seemed the most obvious thing in the world. More than I can say; certainly more than is wise. But you’ve known that all along, of course. Her eyes were inordinately sad as she traced the line of his jaw with one slim, white hand.

I’ve had my moments of doubt, he told her, trying to retain levity in the face of what she did to him; he had felt, for a few moments, as though the entire world had shifted in her arms. Though I thought you might come around sooner or later. But I must tell you, love is not meant to put such a melancholy look on your face.

Perhaps it is easier for you,
she told him.

It does not have to be difficult. Come away with me, he countered; it had come so easily, this invitation that he never should have offered, that he had in fact never intended to extend.

She had laughed, but the laugh contained little in the way of genuine humor. You must never ask me that, she had said. Just as I know I cannot ask you to stay. But I am here now, and you will stay, tonight.

I will stay,
he agreed.

She has never asked him for anything since, nor has she offered any promises, although she is fundamentally a creature of commitment, a woman who should by all rights demand them. He has always assumed that this is entirely for his benefit, an acknowledgement that he is a bird constantly on the wing, but now he cannot help but feel slighted, and even angry – she might have asked him about it, might have found the time to talk with him, to hear his feelings on the matter, even if he cannot clearly formulate what they are. She might have tried.

And so, of course, might he. He can acknowledge that the blame cannot be placed squarely on her shoulders, can acknowledge even that talking would likely have solved nothing, but as he listens to the storm and the sound of his own even breathing, he wishes he had a thread of a promise, however fine, to pull her to his side.

***


They run into Vaan in the Cloudborne a few days later. He is, as always, exuberant, waving them over and offering to buy drinks, which proves that he has, at least, grown up a little – the Vaan they first met would never have offered to pay for anything. Penelo is not with him, which is both a curiosity and a relief; the girl is nowhere near as unobservant. Vaan chatters blithely away, clearly unaware that anything may be wrong, and that along with a pint of madhu makes Balthier feel a great deal better about life in general.

Penelo is in Archades, as it turns out, helping with the preparations for the festival that will be held next month when the Emperor reaches his majority – “I don’t know what Larsa thinks she’s able to do for a fancy party like that – Penelo’s not exactly the high society type – but pointing that out apparently just made both of them mad.” He shrugs sheepishly. “I’ll give her a week to cool off; she’ll be bored senseless by then.”

“You’ve spent some time developing this plan, I take it,” Balthier says dryly; as far as he’s concerned, Vaan’s inability to see what is right in front of his face is going to bite him sooner rather than later.

Fran gives him a bland look and says, “It is not the most foolish plan I have ever heard.”

“See?” Vaan beams. “Anyway, it’s lucky I ran into you; Larsa told me to let you know to check your mail for your invitation. Apparently, the moogles say you’re hard to reach lately.”

That is his fault entirely; irritated as he is, he has strayed far from civilization these last weeks. He hasn’t particularly wanted to be reached, though he can only assume that she hasn’t made any attempt. The first step, he knows, has always been his to make. “We’ll be there, naturally,” he says. “Wouldn’t miss it.” If he is honest, an evening of feasting and dancing in the Archadian capital is not his idea of a good time right at the moment, but good relations with powerful people must be maintained when one is no longer able to rely upon one’s anonymity for protection.

“Hey, speaking of parties,” Vaan says, “I heard a crazy rumor at the Sandsea a few days ago.” Fran gives him a pointed look that Balthier can clearly interpret as shut up, now, but it is obvious that Vaan isn’t paying attention, or else has not yet learned what it means, because he continues cheerily: “They’re saying Ashe is getting married.”

“You never will learn to hold your tongue,” Fran mutters with a disgusted shake of her head; Vaan, predictably, gives her an uncomprehending look and says, “What? I thought you’d want to know!”

“You’re a bit late with that happy news,” Balthier tells him with a cool tone perfectly matched to the indifferent expression on his face; he has spent years developing the look, and it has served him well. “Her Majesty – and you might want to remember she is your queen, for future reference – told me herself.”

Vaan looks flabbergasted. “But…… uh. Huh. I thought they were making that one up, like the time Kytes said his neighbor’s sister’s friend who works in the palace saw Ashe – the queen – Her Majesty – whatever – sneaking in through the kitchen with a torn dress at not quite dawn –”

Fran does not laugh – quite – as she says, “An interesting standard you have, for what is true, and what is not.”

Balthier, who remembers that occasion very well, finds himself struggling to maintain nonchalance. “Dalmasca needs something to celebrate.”

Vaan looks between the two of them, clearly bewildered. “But I thought that you – ow! Fran, that’s my foot!”

“Subtler means were proving ineffective,” the viera says.

After they have left the tavern, he tells her crossly, “I do not need protecting, Fran.”

“Oh yes, you do,” she disagrees. “From yourself, especially, as you have chosen the least constructive means possible of handling your affairs.”

“I do not think,” he says acidly, “that she ever intended to offer me a say in the matter.”

“Oh?” Fran says, arching one brow ever slightly above the other – an expression of astonishment, from her. “And you now require her permission?” He cannot find anything at all to say to that. “Consider that I am only trying to provoke you into action,” she tells him. “It matters little what manner of action so long as it is action; you are swiftly becoming insufferable. You style yourself the leading man, but I see little enough evidence of anything but sulking on your part.”

“This is not a children’s story,” he says. “Sometimes, there is nothing to be done.”

“Sometimes,” she agrees. “And sometimes, there is a sky fortress falling upon a city full of people destined to die in terrible agony. When this happens, one’s wisest course of action is, of course, to surrender gracefully. Is this one of those times, Balthier?”

He wants to tell her, yes, but it is a trick question, because he rarely makes the wise choice; and besides, it seems like a concession, and he has never been good at giving quarter. Instead, he tells her, “I’ll let you know, once I’ve worked it out,” which, at least, seems to make her satisfied for the moment.

Chapter 3
 
 
♫: OneRepublic - "Prodigal"
 
 
 
flonnebonne: Pierrotflonnebonne on September 20th, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
Guh, I love this so much. Fran is so sarcastic, it's wonderful. You know when Fran is sarcastic that she is getting really fed up. Vaan is pretty lovable here, which is amazing considering that Vaan usually bores me. And Balthier and Ashe are, of course, as screwed up as they're supposed to be. Can't wait to read more. Glad to know it's going to be a happy ending!
Maaya: 003 flutterchaineddove on September 21st, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
Awwwwww, thank you! I do love sarcastic Fran ♥

New chapter will be up within the hour!
(Deleted comment)
Maaya: anissina is made of winchaineddove on September 21st, 2011 04:37 am (UTC)
Awwwwww, thank you! I also think Fran completely stole the show in chapter two. And Vaan is such a dork, god. He'll be back, promise!

Psssssst, I just posted chapter 3......
(Deleted comment)
Maaya: hugschaineddove on September 22nd, 2011 02:54 pm (UTC)
Well wow, what a compliment! That makes me feel pretty fantastic. Um, you're welcome??? ♥