Disclaimer: I do not own Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII, nor am I making any money off this fanfiction.

Author's Notes…

Trying to start something to get back into the mood for the FFXII remaster! I hope other people are excited.

I haven't really written anything in a while because I haven't had the energy to write. So many things have been happening in my life. But I'm finally at a place where I want to get back into the groove of things.

Anyway, this is going to be mostly short chapters, as an experiment to get me to update faster. Please enjoy!

Between the Lines

Chapter One

Hurts Like Hell

She had been planning to.

Planning to tell him.

Tonight was the special night, the night where everything would come together at last, and they could stop pretending. No more games, letters, feigned adventures, just… the two of them, as they were meant to be.

It was, she had come to think of it as, the moment when they could set aside their battle gear. She'd been looking forward to it on the way over, on the weeks leading up to this visit. He'd laugh with delight, and he'd put his large hands around her waist, pull her close to him, and then he'd—well, she'd thought with frequent blushes, he'd lean in, and he'd kiss her, and…


She was brought back to the present. Larsa stared down at her in pleasant surprise, his arm being held onto by some—sort of royalty, a princess, perhaps. They had been in the middle of exchanging a chaste kiss, and from where she was standing, Penelo could not miss the giant engagement ring on the woman's finger.

Larsa started down the stairs toward her, his boots clicking on marble. "I thought you had said you could not come to my birthday party?"

I wanted it to be a surprise, Penelo thought. The words weren't quite making it from between her lips. Her mouth was hanging open, and she was reasonably certain there were tears forming in her eyes, stinging horribly and maddeningly embarrassing. It didn't help that the woman on Larsa's arm had curled her lip up a little, as though she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Yet when she turned to Larsa, there was a charming little smile on her face.

"Is this the Penelo I have been hearing so much about?" she asked, her accent thickly Rozarrian.

Oh, gods, I've got to get out of here.

Penelo whirled and gathered up the skirts to her ballgown, and without further ado, promptly fled the ballroom.

It was more difficult than it should have been. There were crowds of partygoers, all laughing, some drunk, others just enjoying themselves. She had to shove her way through as violins and cellos started up a slow song in a far corner of the room, signaling the next dance. Guests checked their dance cards and began to file onto to the dance floor. After that, it was a little easier to at least make it to the border of the room.

She could feel daisies falling free from her hair behind her. Tears incessantly blurred her vision as she recalled a picnic in the gardens, where he'd tucked a few behind her ear and smiled at her, telling her how lovely she looked. And now, here he was, with some other woman, and oh, Penelo was so stupid, oh, yes, because how could she have thought, even for just a moment, a second, that she could ever have what she wanted.

She thought she heard Larsa yell her name behind her, confused.

If it were anyone else, they would have stopped, listened to an emperor's command.

The doors!

Relieved, Penelo made her way up the other ballroom stairs and past the guards, who permitted her to leave. She in such a hurry, a tangle of emotion running through her, that she wasn't paying attention. In no time, she'd staggered out into the rose maze, which had been strung up with hundreds of dazzling little lights for the occasion. She turned, as though to go back inside, but could see Larsa's very tall head over the crowd, nearly to her.

She shoved her shoes off, yanked up her skirts again, and made a lunge into the gardens, her stockings be damned. She did not care anymore where she was, only that she was as far away from him as she could be.

It was cool enough that evening that mist was out, touching upon her face. The sounds of the party faded behind her, the tinkles of glasses touching, the music, all of it quickly becoming a swirl of nothing. It was replaced with insects, with the brush of the breeze as it played over the hedges and tugged her hair free from its coif.

Halfway to the center of the maze, grief slammed into her so hard she staggered into the side of the maze. Sobs were queueing in her throat, making a desperate bid for freedom.

How could she have thought…?

How could she have hoped…?

She kept going blindly, making strangled gasps as she tried to keep the flood of tears at bay. Good gods, this was terrible, her nose was streaming, it was gross. She wiped at her face, staggering away from the prickly branches of the hedge. One foot in front of the other, she cautioned herself. One foot, then the other, back and forth, yes, that was the ticket.

One of the larger fountains loomed into view, and she fell onto the edge of it, staring down into the rippling water. There, she let everything free, hoping that the sounds of the water would drown her out. She gripped onto her heart, the stone of the fountain digging into the palm of her other hand. She hadn't felt grief this complex since maybe her parents, and that was years and years ago.

She was such a blundering idiot.

"Penelo!" The gasp was slightly out of breath.

She didn't turn around. She lifted both hands to her face and was careful to wipe her tears free and sniffle, even though it was a futile attempt. Rather like stoppering up a flood with a tissue.

"Penelo, what is going on, why are you upset?" Larsa's gloved hand clamped over her shoulder, at once familiar and aching.

She pushed it away and rose from the fountain. She could hear the skirts of her new dress swishing around her legs, dragging on blades of dewy grass. "Just go away, Larsa," she croaked. Her eyes felt swollen, hot. She knew she looked a mess. She had never been a pretty crier.

"No! Not until I understand what has you so upset!" He reached for her again.

Again, she dove out of the way. "It doesn't matter!" The sobs were coming again, damned things. She had to go back the way they came, find the exit from there. She would not be able to find refuge here, compose herself until she could leave in a more dignified way. He wasn't going to let that happen. "Okay, just go!"

His hands gripped her elbows and jerked her forward. To comfort her, she dimly realized. Instinct reared, and she shoved her hands into his chest hard enough to send him tottering back. He stared at her in surprise, in hurt, the expressions mingling on his face. Once upon a time, she would have felt instantly sorry. Not now. Not when it felt like someone was wrenching a knife through her insides.

"Penelo," he said more softly now. "Penelo, whatever it is, we can work through it together. You are my best friend. I do not understand—"

"Was it fun, watching me make a fool of myself?" she choked out.

"A fool—? Penelo, what—"

Anger was rising to the surface now, drowning out the pain. She let it. It was far easier to be angry than it was to be sad. "Larsa, I practically threw myself at you! I couldn't have been clearer on how I felt!"

His features changed then, an empty mask sliding into place. She recognized it as his politician's face.

"No!" she yelled. "You don't get to do that, you don't get to shut me out! Not after everything we've been through! We're best friends! Face this like you care about me, not like I'm some—some bit of duty you've got to make yourself do!"

"And what would you have me do, Penelo?" The words were controlled, precise.

He may as well have slapped her.

Lips trembling, she forced a smile from them. "Nothing, Larsa. Enjoy your seventeenth birthday. She's lovely. Truly."

There weren't any tears to shed on the way back inside. Two could play at that game.

But the raw, hollow feeling had yet to leave her, and shadowed her much like their friendship once had.