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Conflicting Opinions

Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Title: Conflicting Opinions
Author/Artist: iceprincessd
Theme(s): #25 maillot, paradox
Pairing/Characters: Balthier/Ashe
Rating: PG
Disclaimer/claimer: Balthier and Ashe do not belong to me. Property of Square Enix.
Summary: “Why can’t he act more like him?”

Penelo sat down on the ground and moodily stared into the campfire. For someone who was unusually bright and cheerful, her actions were enough to make Basch raise his eyebrows questioningly towards Ashe. She looked back at him as if to silently ask if he wanted to ask Penelo what was wrong or if she should. The situation was quickly solved when Penelo quietly sniffled and wiped her cheek with her palms. Basch stood up and gruffly muttered something about doing a perimeter check.

Ashe sighed. Basch never could handle tears well. “Is there something wrong?” she asked, turning towards Penelo.

“No.” She scrubbed at her face again. “Yes. Vaan and Larsa are acting like idiots.”

Oh. By the look of her face, the few tears she had shed had been angry ones. “I’m sure they didn’t mean to be,” Ashe started. “Vaan might be a little insensitive at times and Larsa a bit naïve when it comes to everyday topics, but they both mean well.”

“It just irritates me, is all,” Penelo said, picking up pebbles and placing them together. “I can do a lot more than cast protective spells and hand out potions, you know. And I know more than just how to dance and keep Vaan from doing too many stupid things.”

“Well of course you can.” Ashe had been amazed at how fast Penelo had picked up and mastered the more destructive black magicks and how versatile she had proven herself to be, fighting with not only daggers, but with poles as well.

“Well not according to Larsa! He says that I’m more suited to helping in the background instead of learning how to use a sword. You wouldn’t think he’d say something like that when he goes on about how great Judge Drace is.”

Ashe sat quietly, trying to best word her thoughts while Penelo went on describing the points Larsa had brought up as to why she should be as far away from the combat their party faced on a daily basis. It was painfully obvious that he cared a great deal for Penelo, but she somehow failed to see it.

“Perhaps he’s merely trying to protect you in his own way,” Ashe finally said. “He hasn’t known you for long, but you are one of the few people he considers his friend. And he hasn’t been around you enough to see that you’re perfectly capable of fending for yourself.

She bit her lip. “Well, maybe.”

“And he is a gentleman. He’s been taught from the cradle to respect women and protect them at all costs. You can’t undo twelve years of habit in a single week.”

Penelo sighed, scattering her stack of pebbles. “You’re right. And Vaan just sees me as a friend.” The way that she said the last bit made Ashe wonder if she wanted something more than friendship from him. “Sometimes, I wish he’d be more…”

“More what?”

“More like Basch or Balthier. They seem so grounded, especially Basch. And Balthier is always so sure of himself and he knows just the right things to say all the time.”

Ashe smiled. “Perhaps that’s the advantage of maturity.” Even as she said it, she couldn’t picture a younger Basch being awkward and blurting out things that he probably should have kept to himself. He had been there for Ashe as she grew up; stoic at times, yet as playful as their stations allowed on others. He had been such a constant in her life that she suddenly realized after spending the better part of two years hating him how much she had actually missed him. “I don’t know if Balthier is a good candidate for a role model though.”

“Why not? Vaan is determined to be a sky pirate; I haven’t seen anyone that could be better.” She curled her legs up so that her knees were touching her chin. She sighed, her voice taking on a slightly dreamy tone. “He is really handsome, isn’t he?”

Ashe opened her mouth, but then closed it. “It depends on what your definition of handsome is.” Her own definition happened to include fair hair and kind eyes. She stared off into the fire, remembering the warm feel of Rasler’s hands in hers, their fingers twining together. Her fingers curled as she thought of the solid weight of him over her, the way that her hands would glide over his back, the contented smiles he would give her and the sleepy, affectionate kisses afterwards.

Meticulously kept hair and dark, calculating eyes didn’t fit her definition, of that she was certain. Or else she thought that she was sure; as the days and the miles passed, her certainties wavered, only to firmly place Rasler’s face back in the forefront of her mind, then waver again. Her convictions wouldn’t even falter in the first place if Balthier wasn’t so contradictory in nature. He would do something kind one minute, such as wordlessly hand her a potion without imparting any comments on how she could have avoided getting hurt in the first place, or he would take the first watch when he saw that at the end of the day she was so tired she could barely keep to her feet, even though he was in the same condition.

But then he would do something cruel to remind her that he was only a money-greedy pirate, like demand her ring as payment for services rendered. What kind of gentleman would take the one physical reminder a woman had of her husband? Her eyes flicked to the pale band of skin on her finger as her thumb absently rubbed it out of habit. “He’s overconfident,” she said quietly. “He always thinks that he’ll come out on top of things when it’s all said and done.”

“But he always does,” Penelo said, tilting her head.

“Which means that one of these days, he won’t.”

“I still think that Vaan could do worse. I mean, Balthier has a lot of good qualities about him.”

He’s vain and brash, but at the same time you can see he’s loyal to Fran. He doesn’t complain much, but you have to wonder where he learned how to twist his words so that one conversation could make you spend hours afterwards deciphering just to see if there might have been any hidden meanings directed your way. Out loud, she said, “Yes, because one needs to know how to cheat at cards in order to make it in life.”

“He doesn’t cheat,” Penelo said in his defense. “He just…bends the rules a little. What do you think about him?”

Even though he’s the loudest when he critiques Vaan’s sword techniques, it’s his own way of getting the boy to improve. Ashe frowned. It wasn’t that she wanted to dislike Balthier, it was just that he had her emotionally turning in so many directions when they were together that she wished he would stop. Her previous attractions had been easy: the girlhood crush on Basch that had faded over time, the pre-arranged marriage to Rasler that had grown from mutual respect to genuine love, even the camaraderie with Vossler that years of living in close quarters and fighting for the same goal had created had been easy.

If anything, Balthier was not an easy man.

And maybe it was because Balthier wasn’t an easy man to get along with that she was intrigued by him in the first place. He claimed to be a simple person to understand, but there were so many things that she didn’t know about that made it difficult for her to do.

“I don’t know what to make of him actually,” she said quietly.

“Make of whom?” As if conjured out of thin air, Balthier gracefully sat at the fire, directly opposite of her.

“Of Vaan,” Ashe said quickly.

“Ah. I overheard him and Larsa talking just now.” He looked at Penelo, who was looking between Balthier and Ashe with a slightly puzzled look on her face, as if she had missed something at the sudden tension that surrounded the fire. “It seems they don’t think you can handle yourself, do they, Penny?”

Penelo’s cheeks grew pink at the nickname. “Not really.”

“They underestimate you then. If you’re interested in learning another weapon, I don’t see the harm in you doing so.”

Penelo gave Ashe a look that said see, that’s what I was talking about. Balthier continued. “I think that their problem is that they don’t want to see you hurt. Perhaps a compromise is in order?”

“A compromise?”

He nodded. “Yes. Promise to stay in the back, away from the main fighting and in return, I’ll teach you how to use a ranged weapon. Depending on the type, they can do as much damage as a blade can.”

She brightened. “You’d do that?”

“Well, I’m not very good at bows. You might want to ask Fran for help with those instead. Yet if you’re interested in pistols or crossbows, I’ll be more than happy to instruct you.”

“We did get that crossbow from the Garif,” she mused. “And it came with darts too, so it’s ready to work with.”

“So it’s settled then? We’ll start tomorrow morning.”

Penelo sprang up and gave Balthier a quick hug to thank him before leaving the campfire. Ashe couldn’t help but notice Balthier looked slightly surprised at her actions, covering up his emotions by fussing with the cuffs on his sleeves.

“That was nice of you to do,” Ashe commented.

He tilted his head. “That’s what leading men do, Princess. I have a feeling that our Penelo isn’t much of a damsel in need of saving as those two boys think though.”

“I don’t think so either.” They lapsed into silence, Ashe picking at the pebbles Penelo had previously collected.

“I won’t apologize,” he said suddenly.

“Then why take it?” She looked up just in time to see his closely guarded expression fall, his eyes softening.

“There are more important things in life than vengeance,” he murmured, almost as if he were speaking more to himself than to her. “Becoming obsessed with one thing often throws everything else out of focus, forcing you to overlook what really matters until it’s too late.”

He stood up, brushing his knees free of grass. “Don’t forget that, Ashe.”

She stared at his retreating back, stunned by hearing him use her name instead of her title.

“Did things work out?” Basch asked, coming to sit beside her again.

She blinked. “I…” Balthier was standing with Fran, talking about something. “I don’t know.” She looked away. He was supposed to be there for the money, but then he goes and says things like that. “But I hope it works out in the end.”

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