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The Care and Keeping of Chocobos

Title: The Care and Keeping of Chocobos
Author: iceprincessd
Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Pairing: Basch/Gwen (original character)
Table: B
Prompt: #6 first meeting
Rating: G
Word Count: 2,244
Summary: If he hadn't gotten the ill-tempered one, he might not have met her. Pre-game.
Warnings: None
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters. Property of Square-Enix. The only one I lay claim to is Gwen.


“Hey, new guy.”

Basch’s attention shifted towards his right, where he had heard someone whisper. Technically, he had been enlisted in the Dalmascan army just as long as Vossler Azelas, but for some reason he had picked up the title of New Guy, which had stuck. He didn’t mind, seeing that he and Vossler had been assigned in the same unit and had quickly become friends. Besides, he figured that there were more annoying things that he could have been called, if he gave Vossler the chance to be creative enough.

“What?” he whispered back, back straight and eyes forward. Anything less during inspection would have earned him weapons detail for who knew how long.

“Nervous?”

He gulped. “No. You?”

“Not a bit. It’s just…” Vossler let his sentence linger as their commanding officer walked in front of them.

“Just what?” Basch asked once the coast was clear.

“Better hope you don’t get assigned a grouchy chocobo. I heard that the ones from up north have nasty tempers. Ever wonder how Gant lost his eye?”

He paled slightly. “I thought it was in battle.”

Vossler snorted. “That’s what he wants everyone to think. Truth is, he got too close and it plucked his eye right out of his head.”

Basch was going to ask Vossler something else, but then there was a commotion as chocobo wranglers began to bring in their new mounts. To dispel the sudden nervousness that gnawed at his gut, Basch mentally went over all the technical aspects of what was expected from him as a newly appointed member of the mounted assault unit.

***

The trip from the protectives shop to the castle garrison was longer than usual, seeing that Gwen was carrying several sets of newly mended leather armor in her arms. Sweat slid down her temple as the hot noonday sun beat down overhead. Three kids ran past her on the North End, bumping into her and almost making her lose the hold she had on her items.

“Another fine job,” one of the armor’s apprentices told her once she delivered the pieces back to their rightful owners.

She couldn’t help the rush of pride, especially since she had been the one to spend the most time laboriously stitching pieces back together here and reinforcing padding there on each breastplate until it met her father’s satisfaction. Their shop wasn’t as big as Panamis’ and it more than likely wouldn’t ever be, but having the occasional commission from the royal army meant a little extra gil in their coffers to tide them over until the next job.

“We aim to please,” she replied, pocketing the money and listening to it jingle at her hip. Her father would count it later and then they’d go over their books together to see if they had enough to order new supplies or not. Hopefully they had made enough extra that they could spurge on some new looms or a couple of extra display cases.

“You should stay a bit,” the apprentice said. “The new recruits are being assigned chocobos; it ought to be interesting.”

Gwen grinned. “You just like seeing who gets bucked off.”

He laughed. “But of course.”

She weighed her options. She really should be getting back to her weaving if she wanted to meet the deadline a patron had given the shop to produce a piece of mystic armor, and there were several shields in the back room that needed burnishing before they could be put on display. “Any new ones from Nabradia?”

“Several, and the stable hands said that they all act as if they have burrs under their saddles.”

***

Basch watched as several of his comrades successfully went though basic maneuvers on their new steeds and eyed the dwindling amount of chocobos that were left and the ever growing crowd of spectators. Normally various castle personnel would pass by during the day on their way to and from whatever errand they had to run, but they rarely lingered to watch. Serving boys were perched atop a low wall and a couple of individuals stood nearby talking amongst themselves. An older man wearing a heavy leather apron from the forge was gesturing towards them as he talked with a blonde haired girl about Basch’s age. She nodded at whatever the blacksmith said before turning towards them.

It might have been just his imagination, but Basch could have sworn he had felt her lock eyes with him. There was a considerable distance between them, but they were close enough that he caught the way she stared and then quickly looked away, turning her attention towards her companion.

“Eyes up front, fon Ronsenburg.” Basch flinched when his commanding officer’s voice boomed next to him. “Daydreaming about pretty girls won’t keep you alive on the battlefield.”

He straightened up. “Apologies, sir.”

His Captain tilted his head. His lips quirked upwards and he jerked his chin towards the remaining chocobos. “Keep your head on your training and it might just impress her enough for an introduction though. Take the gold one.”

“Rotten luck,” Vossler whispered sympathetically when Basch realized that he had been ordered to approach one of the testier birds. Basch straightened his shoulders and wished that he had gotten a better natured one instead, but took the reins nonetheless. The chocobo stamped its feet, causing a small cloud of dust to kick up around its legs.

Once mounted, Basch settled into the saddle and easily maneuvered his new mount around the training grounds, feeling more and more confident that he had been too quick to judge behavior on first impressions alone. All that was really needed was to show the chocobo who was boss, and he was feeling as if he had accomplished that in spades.

That was until he tried to do a quick pivot. The move was one that they had practiced on a more docile bird that hadn’t minded the sharp tug of the bridle or a slight kick to the flank. This chocobo, however, disliked it immensely. Before he knew it, Basch felt himself pitching forward as if in slow motion, his body sailing over the chocobo’s head and landing with a thud on the hard packed earth below.

“Not bad for a first try,” his captain told him, holding out a hand to help Basch up. “Take your new partner to the stables and let it get used to you.” And with that, Basch was dismissed. He felt his cheeks redden at the sound of the kitchen boys on the wall recounting his fall, snickering at one boy’s exaggerated embellishments. Part of Basch knew that they didn’t really mean to be cruel, but another part was mortified, especially when the chocobo put up a fight at following him towards the stables.

“I have one word to say to you,” Basch hissed, his voice thickening until his accent was even more pronounced than usual. “And that word is taxidermist.”

The chocobo gave a harsh “Kweh!” as if to say ‘The feeling is completely mutual.’

“You should try Gyshal greens.”

Basch turned around and found the same girl from before standing in the stable doorway. “Do they really work?” he asked, wondering just how much of the conversation she had heard. There hadn’t been much as he had unbuckled the saddle and took the reins off besides a few choice curse words in his native Landian dialect and a couple of threats, but still.

The girl shrugged. “They do seem to like them.” She took a few steps forward. “I’m Gwen.”

“I’m Basch.”

She smiled. “I know, I heard out there.” There was an awkward pause between them and she scuffed her sandal in the sand.

“I don’t remember seeing you around,” Basch supplied, rubbing the back of his neck. He inwardly berated himself for saying something so inane. That’s what he got for spending most of his adolescence in his own company instead of with girls like his brother had. Charm and conversation had been almost second nature to Noah where Basch had been much more content to wander the countryside and see what sort of mischief he could get himself into.

Gwen’s cheeks turned a faint pink. “I don’t work here at the palace,” she explained. “My father and I run a protectives shop near the bazaar. I was just dropping off some of the things we had finished repairing.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that there was one.”

She shrugged. “We’re small, but we make do.” There was another pause as she cautiously made her way inside the stables. From up close, Basch saw that her hair was a light brown, not blonde like he had originally thought. “I haven’t seen you around either,” she supplied.

“I’ve only been here for a few months.”

She nodded. “What do you think of Rabanastre?”

“It’s hot.” He winced, wishing that he could think of anything better. The chocobo seemed to agree, because it turned in its stall and started cleaning its feathers, dismissing the both of them.

“Well,” Gwen said, swinging her arms behind her. “I’d better be getting back. It was nice meeting you, Basch.” She gave him a shy smile before turning to the door.

“You too.” He stood there in the stables, his gear in his hands, until Vossler came up. He had wound up getting a docile steed that made small chirping noises as Vossler unbuckled his saddle.

“Cute girl,” he commented.

“Yes.” Basch watched as Gwen walked out of sight.

“Think she’s my type?”

“No.” The answer came back fast enough to raise his friend’s eyebrows.

“Oh well. Can’t help giving it a shot, now can I?”

***

Several days later saw Gwen sitting behind the small counter, a shirt in her hand. She bit her lip in concentration, trying to embroider a protective charm along the hem and cuffs. It was one of her own, seeing that her stitches were still too messy for sellable items, no matter how hard she practiced.

The jingle of the bell at the front door was enough to get her to look up from her work.

“Hello,” Basch said, holding a bundle of material in front of him.

“Hello.” Gwen set her stitching aside and walked out from behind the counter. “How goes the chocobo training?”

Basch shrugged. “I tried the greens,” he said. “They worked like a charm.”

“That’s great news. I’m glad that you’re not having any problems.”

He gave her a look. “Well, actually, I am. See, I didn’t know how much to give, so I wound up feeding it an entire bushel instead of just a small handful.”

“And what happened?”

“Now if I don’t feed my bird greens every day, it gets even grumpier.” He held up the bundle. “It bit right through the straps of my armor today.”

Gwen’s eyes got big. “Oh no. You weren’t hurt, were you?”

He used his free hand to rub at the back of his neck. “No, I think that was just a warning nip to let me know I was getting stingy with the treats. But I was wondering, I mean, since your shop does freelance work for the palace and all, if you could mend it for me.”

Gwen looked at the damage. Really, it was a simple job, only requiring her to replace a few leather straps where they had been bitten clean off. “I can get it done by the end of the day,” she took the piece in her arms and set it on the counter.

“I can pay you, but not for another week.”

“That’s fine. Father and I are used to working with different pay schedules.” She glanced around towards the back rooms, where she could hear her father working on a new set of bronze armor. There wasn’t anyone else in the shop and she leaned towards Basch conspiratorially. “But since it’s such a small repair, I won’t charge you this time.”

“You won’t?”

She could feel her face burn. “No.” Looking at him in his civilian clothes, she noted that he looked even more approachable than he had in the stables, if that was possible. “How old are you?”

The change of topic threw him for a moment. “I’ll be eighteen in three months. How old are you?”

“I’m sixteen. You just looked really young to be in the army, especially since you’re not from around here.”

His smile fell and she was instantly sorry that she had said something. “I have my reasons,” was all that he said. Then as fast as it had disappeared, his easygoing expression returned, even if it did look a little forced. “Thank you for the repair, but I insist on paying. I’d feel guilty otherwise.”

“And I insist on refusing.” She looked up at him from behind lowered eyelashes. “Perhaps if you feel so guilty, you could make up for it some other way?” Internally, she felt like clamping a hand over her mouth. She’d never said anything so bold to a boy before and it shocked her.

Basch leaned back on his heels. This time his smile was genuine. “Perhaps I could. There’s supposed to be some traveling musicians performing by the fountains tonight. If you’re not doing anything, would you like to go with me?”

“I’d like that.”

“Then I’ll see you tonight.” He opened the door, the bell jingling above his head. “Gwen?”

“Yes?”

“I’m really glad I got such a grouchy chocobo.”

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
night_is_fallen
Jul. 22nd, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Oh, I love it! And I love your Gwen. She is, so far, adorable and charming, and just perfect for Mr. Basch. :D I'm very much looking forward to more of this from you!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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