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Birthday Blues

Title: Birthday Blues
Rating: G
Character/Pairings: Balthier/Ashe, Basch + Ashe friendship
Words: 1,181
Summary: Ashe fully intended to spend her twentieth birthday silently brooding.
Warnings: Slightly angsty-pants Basch? You can’t tell how much I love the guy at all, seeing as I always make him depressed, but I do love him. I really do. Also warning of slightly garbled up lyric from song I'm currently listening to. *points at music*
Note: I really had other plans for this fic, but my muse decided to be stubborn (read: not say anything helpful until I did things his way) and steer it here. I think Basch bribed him with non-diet soda to make up for the lack of said drink in my fridge. I have no evidence of this, only suspicion.

The rain that had started as a light mist that morning and eventually developed into a torrential downpour as the day wore on suited Ashe’s mood. She had spent the entire day withdrawn from others in her party, fully intending to spend her twentieth birthday silently brooding.

Basch, on the other hand, had other plans.

“How long are you going to stew?” he asked, sitting down beside her. They were camped under the protection of the ruins that dotted the Tchita Uplands, though she had decided to sit furthest away from the fire and company, content to be alone in the dark.

“I’m not…” she sighed. “Is it that obvious?”

He grinned. “Only to those that have had the privilege of seeing your many moods as you grew up.”

“We’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we?” she asked fondly.

“We have. Which is why I am the only one here to notice that the reason for your mood is because of the date and not the weather.” He pulled out a small amber stone from his pocket. It was smooth to the touch and had a stripe of dark brown going through the middle of it. “Happy birthday, Princess.”

She laughed in surprise, holding the stone close to her chest. “I was always the one to give you these when I was little.” She was surprised that he remembered; as a girl, she had often gifted him with bits of string or stones from the garden paths.

He nodded. “And I kept them all. I figured you would appreciate me turning the tables on you.”

She leaned against his side, happy for the first time that day. “I do. Thank you.”

“I’m glad to see you smile. I was beginning to wonder if you and Balthier had had another quarrel.”

“No, we haven’t…” Ashe trailed off, sitting up straight. “You knew?”

He shook his head. “I suspected, but you just confirmed my guesses.”

She looked wide-eyed at him. “And?”

“I don’t approve,” he stated. “Yet I am neither your father nor one of your brothers, and you are an adult. You are entitled to live your life and make your own mistakes.”

She frowned. “Do you think this is a mistake?”

He didn’t answer her for a while; he just stared at the fire they weren’t sitting at and chewed on the inside of his cheek. “I believe you are from two different worlds,” he finally said, his words coming out slowly. “He knows that you are bound to your duty and you know that he will never stay on the ground for long.”

“How do you know that?” she asked, defiance making her sit up taller.

“You’ve seen him on his ship; the sky is his mistress. Would you clip his wings, steal his sky to keep him near?” He stopped and looked down at his hands. “Even if he stayed, even if you gave him all the freedom that he wanted, it would still be there unspoken. In the end, it would be the thing that drives a wedge between the two of you. Then one day, he simply will not return.”

Ashe swallowed a lump that had grown thick in her throat. “You sound as if you’re speaking from experience.”

“I am. I once loved a woman more than I’d ever loved anyone in my entire life. She loved me as well, and things were good for a while.” He smiled, still looking down at his hands, his gaze focused inward. “She was a free spirit; she needed to travel constantly just like she needed air to breathe. I offered her the life of a soldier’s wife, but she refused, knowing that I would never leave Dalmasca and she would wind up forever tied to the desert.”

“What happened?” She tried to remember any time in her childhood where Basch had seemed incredibly happy and then suddenly unhappy, but couldn’t. The stoic man compartmentalized his personal life from his duties and never let one bleed into the other.

“We tried for a few years. She would wander away and then come back only to wander several months later, each time apart growing longer and longer. I began to resent her for not wanting to stay and she began to resent me for wanting to keep her at my side. One night, she got up from our bed and left. She never came back.” He gave her a sideways glance. “You were ten at the time, in case you were wondering.”

“Did you ever get over her?” She was almost afraid of the answer.

“No. The hurt and anger may have faded over time, but I still love her as much as I did all those years ago. I think I will always love her,” he added quietly.

“I don’t know how I feel about him,” she confessed. “He confuses me and makes me angry at times, but I am still drawn to him. He’s going to break my heart, isn’t he?”

“That depends on you,” Basch told her. “Learn from my mistakes. It is too late for me to mend what was done in the past, but your future is what you wish to make of it.”

She took a deep breath. “And when it ends?”

“Everything ends, Ashelia. And endings are rarely ever happy.” He reached out and squeezed her hand. “It’s remembering the happy moments you create along the way that make the endings bearable.”

“So what we do is fine with you?”

He frowned in the way he had when he wanted to say something, yet refrained from saying it. “As long as he does not treat you poorly, then I will tolerate him.” The tone he used hinted that if Balthier stepped out of bounds only once, he would inflict great bodily harm on the sky pirate. He stood up and held out a hand to her. “Are you ready to join the others, or would you prefer to stay here?”

She took his hand, straightening out her skirt with her free one. “No, I’m ready.” She stopped and froze, suddenly thinking of something. “Does anyone else know?”

He smiled faintly. “Only Fran, but that is more than likely because she knows Balthier as well as I know you.”

“Oh, good. About that, could I ask a favor of you?”

“What is it?”

“Could you act as if you didn’t know? Balthier likes to believe that we’re sneaking behind your back. It makes for an interesting…”

Basch groaned and closed his eyes tightly, interrupting her. “I may know you, but I do not wish to know you that well.” He opened his eyes. “I will try to act unaware.”

She smiled. “Thank you, Basch.”

“Consider it a birthday present.” Ashe laughed and went to sit beside Balthier and Penelo near the fire, starting up a conversation with the latter. The former raised his eyebrows at the threatening glower Basch shot his way, but looked away before he could catch the barely audible snort and shake of the head that the knight gave afterwards.

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