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20 September 2011 @ 10:29 pm
The Long Shot (3/6) [Balthier/Ashe; NC-17]  
Title: The Long Shot (3/6)
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: 2,107
Disclaimer: I don't own FFXII (well, I do own a copy for my PS2...).
Authors' Notes: In this chapter, Ashe gets advice from everyone, including Basch, and decides that frankly, she doesn't like any of it. Rather than doing as she's told, she comes up with a Plan B.

”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 3

“And I don’t know if this could break my heart or save me,
Nothing’s real until you let go completely,
So here I go with all my thoughts I’ve been saving,
So here I go with all my fears weighing on me…”

-Kelly Clarkson, “Sober”

***


On a sunny autumn day, she ends her morning council session with a heavy but resolved heart. “One final matter,” she says. “You are all aware, of course, of the delegation I am heading to Archadia in a fortnight for the celebration of the Emperor’s majority and a continued strengthening of diplomatic ties. I have also chosen to accept the invitation of Lord Al-Cid Margrace for a state visit to Rozarria two months hence. While I may be available for emergencies, I leave Lord Azelas to oversee topics of immediate concern in my absence. You are dismissed.” They look, as she imagined they would, equal parts surprised and pleased as they file out.

Lord Azelas lingers. He has aged a great deal in her years of absence, but Vossler’s father is still a powerful-looking man, as well as the closest thing to a friend that she can claim in this group. He has been the first to stand by her from the earliest days of her campaign to reclaim her throne and he has remained a staunch supporter; although she has a notion that he originally pledged his family to the rebellion in hopes of putting his son on the throne when such an opportunity presented itself, he has not withdrawn his support in spite of the circumstances. All of this is why she is shocked at the next words he speaks, with a quiet smile: “It will be good for Dalmasca to have a king again.”

It takes her precious moments to regain her composure and find the words to answer him, though he does not appear to notice her dismay. “Pardon? Lord Azelas, if you’ve anything to say about the way things are being done…”

He waves her words away and chuckles. “Oh, you’re doing a fine enough job, my lady, but even you must admit that a man’s touch is needed. It is no reflection upon you, but surely you would be relieved to return to some manner of normalcy.”

“I see.” She wants to shout, I have sacrificed all I love for this country; how can you tell me now that while I am welcome to save it, I am less welcome to rule it now that the saving is over with? She does not shout, but her voice is several degrees below freezing as she says, “I was not aware that things were, by anyone’s definition, ‘abnormal’.”

“Do not misunderstand me,” Lord Azelas says, clearly noticing her worsening mood. “You are strong, my lady. Stronger than any woman should ever have to be. But with the country in this state…”

“Yes,” she says. “I know the state of my country rather well, I think. I am one of the key reasons that it still exists.”

“Now you are angry,” her advisor says ruefully. “That was not my intent, I assure you. But my lady, you can surely see that this… this transient state of matters cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. You are all we have, and you may rest assured that we are properly grateful, but there are matters of succession to see to, and that, my lady, should be any queen’s primary concern.”

She allows the silence to stretch for a few painfully uncomfortable moments, and is only slightly mollified when the man wilts under her pointed stare. “And you, Lord Azelas, can be assured that I know my duty better than anyone, but do not think for one moment that I will allow myself to be shuffled aside.” She watches him until, at last, he submits and lowers his gaze. “I believe I dismissed you.”

After he is gone, she walks to the window and throws it open. It is autumn, but the breeze from the desert is as hot as the air it stirs. She looks into the sky, thinking that this is a moment in which she most desperately needs an escape from her life, but the blue is bright and glaringly empty; no help will come unless she finds some way to help herself. “It will not be the first time,” she murmurs under her breath; the ache in her heart is nostalgically familiar.

***


She writes to Basch, although she does not call him by name, of course. Larsa has been good about delivering these missives on her behalf without betraying her confidence, but she does not wish to bring her old friend trouble if the mail is compromised. I feel at an impasse, she writes. I am prepared to do what must be done, but I cannot help feeling that this is all wrong, somehow. Sometimes, I think saving the world is much easier than living in it; in war, there is one true path, but in peace, nothing is so simple. I am filled with doubt.

She receives a reply less than a week later; Larsa, as always, is efficient. The mantle of responsibility weighs the heaviest of all, writes Basch. By your choices, you decide also the life and death of a people, and thus these choices cannot be made lightly. A queen who does not know doubt is not fit to be queen; I believe in your ability absolutely. I presume much on our long acquaintance, but I feel I know you well enough to offer this advice: duty may be bitter, but bitterer still is the potential of failure. For love of your country, once you have chosen your path, you cannot waver.

It gladdens my heart that I will see you shortly; if you have need of me sooner, you need only ask.


It is both an encouragement and a reprimand; she feels tears stinging her eyes as she reads it. She wishes he were here, that they could argue – although of course they have never argued; that is a poor habit she has gotten into recently, with another man altogether. She wants to tell him that it is precisely her love for her country that causes her to waver, that she cannot imagine a foreign dignitary is better suited to managing Dalmasca’s progress than she is, that she is not defined by the dress she wears but also by the sharp point of her blade and the sharper point of her intellect. She wants to shout, to clear the air, to defend her right to be selfish when it appears to also be in the best interest of the people whose livelihoods depend on her. She wants to ask him what it is that they fought and bled for if not to keep a foreign king from Dalmasca’s soil, and what sort of queen she is, really, if she quietly allows it to happen now. The Rozarrian who seeks her hand is progressive enough, if rumor is to be believed, but no man rises so high without a love of power, and she cannot imagine he will be content to leave her at the helm.

She cannot commit these thoughts to paper, of course, and he is too far away. She answers only with You have given me much to think on. There is nothing else to say.

I must not marry, she writes in another letter, one that she never sends, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I cannot. I wish I could blame you, for you have given me the freedom I did not know I craved; now I cannot quietly bow my head and become what I am told to become, especially not when I know the greater good is not what is in jeopardy – it is my soul, I believe, that tradition requires be sacrificed. Why is it, do you think, that the more I give, the less it seems to matter?

It is moments like these when I sorely miss your counsel; though you may laugh and tell me I have brought this on myself, I do not think you will agree that I am an unfit queen, for all that you may wish it were otherwise. I wonder what you would say, if I asked you now to save me?

I recall, again and again, your offer to take me away with you. Today, I wish I had agreed.


She tears the parchment into tiny pieces and feeds these pieces to the fire. In the dance of its flames, she thinks she can almost see her thoughts tumbling chaotically, one over the other, in a futile attempt to find a way out.

***


The preparations for her coming visits to Archadia and Rozarria begin in earnest; along with council sessions and army inspections, she now has dress fittings and appointments with local merchants to select the appropriate gifts. It reminds her, uncomfortably, of the months she spent preparing to be a bride; perhaps the gowns she is being pinned into now are more conservative, as befits a widow and a ruling monarch, but the underlying feeling is exactly the same. The whirlwind of activity which seemed so exciting and new at sixteen now makes her feel tired and incongruously old. She thinks a great deal of her childhood, and her father, and her disastrously short marriage, and she wonders what those she has lost would have to say about the quandary she finds herself in now. Would her father be proud? Appalled at her unwillingness to bow to fate, although bowing to fate had killed him? Would her brothers understand? Would Rasler?

She hates the fuss, but it is her seamstresses who give her the idea, in the end; she has given them leave to speak freely as they work, and is therefore treated to the daily gossip of their enviably simple lives. One afternoon, as they take in the waist of a new gown – she has lost weight, again – they are animatedly discussing the scandal of one’s sister’s neighbor’s niece getting out of her father’s insistence that she take religious vows by coming home one day and announcing she is with child. One chuckles and tells the other, “Well, no woman ever needed a husband to have a baby,” and Ashe jerks so unexpectedly that she ends up with no less than three pins in her side.

Long after the effusive apologies have faded and the women have curtsied and departed, she stands at the window, playing their innocuous conversation over and over in her mind, feeling that she has unexpectedly stumbled onto the perfect – if unconventional – solution to keep her kingdom in her own hands. Indeed, no woman has ever needed a husband to have a child – and she certainly doesn’t need one to produce a child of the proper bloodline. Once she has an heir, the succession will be secure, and no self-respecting nobleman – Rozarrian, Archadian, or otherwise – will want to tarnish his reputation by getting involved in the scandal that is certain to ensue. She understands that she is considered an attractive marriage prospect only because she is yet young and childless; a man who marries her can be crowned king and ensure his firstborn child will inherit a kingdom. That sort of incentive is enough to cause any potential husband to overlook the fact that she is a widow, but she does not believe any man would have so little pride as to overlook the existence of an illegitimate child, especially if she clearly expresses her intention to pass the throne to her firstborn, regardless of the father.

Unladylike and unbecoming as it seems, as a subversive plan, it is perfect. All she needs is the proper co-conspirator – someone who she can be sure will not come to the surface at an inconvenient time to make demands of either her or the child. She needs, specifically, someone who she can trust absolutely to keep his silence, and someone who she is perfectly certain would scoff at the idea of being made king – else the entire plot will unravel and she will end up exactly in the place she is trying to avoid. Few men would willingly refuse a crown – but as her luck would have it, she knows one such.

I knew you had a devious mind in there, Your Majesty. For the first time in months, the memory of Balthier brings a small smile to her face; oh, she knows her entire council will be appalled, but she imagines that he will be quite proud, once she’s brought him around to the idea. After all, he is the one who taught her: if the rules are inconvenient, that simply means they must be changed – and if he doesn’t like the new game, well, he has no one to blame for it but himself.

Chapter 4
 
 
♫: Kelly Clarkcon - "Sober"
 
 
 
Noordarklight90 on September 21st, 2011 09:34 am (UTC)
Well, Ashe seems to have her priorities figured out XD. It's quite the scheme she's got, though how Balthier will react is something I must witness, hehe. Especially how down he must feel, given the previous chapter.

On to another point, gotta love me some Ashe/Basch friendship. I liked the exchange of letters between them and how comforting Basch sounds. It seems like he's one of the few who truly understands the trouble she's going through. So sweet of him.

Looking forward to the next update :)
Maaya: i solemnly swear i am up to no goodchaineddove on September 21st, 2011 01:35 pm (UTC)
Ashe has the best plan, because no one on her council would believe she has the metaphorical balls to orchestrate something like this. They really expect her to fall into line... which proves they don't know her very well. Since when has she ever let anyone tell her what to do?

Oh, Balthier's reaction... Just wait XD And yes, Ashe's friendship with Basch is sweet. She misses him.
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Maaya: fighting fatechaineddove on September 21st, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)
All I will say about the ending is that it's a mutually satisfying solution - and also that none of this will actually go quiiiiiite as planned.....

OMG FIREFLY REFERENCE
flonnebonneflonnebonne on September 22nd, 2011 01:16 am (UTC)
Balthier is quite the stud in more ways than one
Basch is the best friend a girl could have. ♡

I like the fact that Ashe's solution only works because it's Balthier. Elegantly subversive.
Maaya: hikago workoutchaineddove on September 22nd, 2011 01:59 am (UTC)
Oh, he REALLY is.
Basch is awesome. Actually, I'm sad that he doesn't get much play in this. Maybe I'll have to write something else to rectify that?

Never let it be said that Ashe isn't a fiendishly clever woman. And yes, it really only works because it is Balthier, although I bet that she could also talk Basch into it, if she framed her argument well... He is, after all, the kind of guy who'd do anything for someone he loves, platonic though it may be.
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Maaya: mokona cuddleschaineddove on September 23rd, 2011 06:07 pm (UTC)
<3333333333333333333333333
I think their friendship is one of the best developed relationships in the game, honestly. She relies upon him so much, and he'd willingly cut through anyone or anything for her sake. I do wish I had written more of him in this fic, sigh. SOMETIMES, THINGS DO NOT WORK OUT THE WAY I WANT.

Also, if I can slack off school work to write this, you have my permission to slack off school work to read it XD
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Maaya: bff ren and reirachaineddove on September 23rd, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
Re: <3!!!!!
Oh man, don't even get me started on Fran and Balthier: I absolutely adore their dynamic! I have half of a "How Fran met Balthier" fic on my hard drive, maybe I'll finish it one if these years...
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Maaya: paine/rikkuchaineddove on September 23rd, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC)
Re: <3!!!!!
Then maybe I will, after the Fran and Vaan fic I have planned next XDDDDD