Final Fantasy XII © Square-Enix

Fancy English? I've never been good at that. Plain English? I spell vegitable with an 'i'.

Progressive Conversation
The Ogir-Yensa Sandsea was seventy five percent ground sand, twenty percent airborne sand, and five percent annoying-sand-that-got-in-your-eyes. There was sand to the east, sand to the west, sand to the south, and though I couldn't really tell at the position I'm sitting in, I'm pretty sure there was sand to the north as well. All sand, no action, sure boredom.

The monsters seem to have taken the dropping of the sun as a sign to go into immediate hibernation until morning. Ever since the start of night, all has been a dead calm throughout the vast desert. The only sound came from the soft breathing of my fellow companions deep in their sleep and the soft crackling of the jovial fire we all surrounded. Speaking of my dear companions, I really got more that I had bargained for when I decided to lend them a hand— two presumably dead people (one who was off surveying the area despite the countless times I've told him that the most lethal thing here at night was if he accidentally tripped and ate a mouthful of sand) two no-name kids that just popped out of nowhere, another bulky gentleman who was off with one of the Presumably-Dead, and Fran. Dear, dear Fran. Honestly, besides myself, I'd say she was the only sane one of the lot. Normally we'd be having a nice chat about what riches we could pilfer from Raithwall's Tomb, but she was asleep, and I don't like to disturb her in her rest for reasons and past experiences better left unsaid.

So, consequently, that left me bored out of my mind, and yes, even the leading man does get a little mind blank now and then. I dared not fall into slumber in slight fear that I'd receive a rather rude awakening when Basch and Vossler when they have returned from their useless surveying of the area. That and I really wasn't tired. Too bored to sleep.

After polishing my gun for the umpteenth time, though, I finally decided that trying to entertain myself with such petty tasks wasn't going to make time pass any quicker, and if anything, it was just drawing out the minutes longer than they needed to be. After tossing yet another twig (where did that come from in the vast sand land?) into the small, crackling fired, I had half the notion of giving Vaan a kick in the shin before setting off to find the other two man and eavesdrop on whatever little conversation they were having. I was halfway to where the boy laid sprawled out on the sand when something beside me stirred. A few seconds of processing and all thoughts of boredom were erased from my mind. Now here was a lovely little amusement factor perfect for those who thirst for some fun.

"Good morning, Princess," I chided though it was the middle of the night with no twinkling stars sewed into the sky. After a few groggy seconds where her brain kicked into gear, the girl gave a small gasp before bolting upright.

"What hour is it?" she asked, her eyes scanning the dark horizon.

"Looks a tad like the hour where it'll do you good to shake off all that sand in your hair," I replied as I took a seat next to her. Ashe did as I instructed, and probably a little too well as I found bits of sand in my eyes certainly not for the time since we've came into the desert. "Watch where you're sending the sand."

"No one told you to sit there," she said simply as she rose and began walking off.

"Where are you headed to?" I called. No woman dares to ditch me, and I wasn't about to let some dethroned princess be the first.

"I'm going to find Basch and Vossler as it is apparent they aren't here," she replied. Well, she certainly was steadfast; I'd give her that. Regardless, however, I wasn't about to let my only bit of fun amongst the monotonous night slip away so easily. If it meant standing in her path, then I was all too ready to do that.

"I'm sorry, Ashe, but those two told me to keep a sharp eye out, especially for you," I said. It was truth, every word of it. So what if they hadn't technically quoted on that word for word? Close enough, I'd say. Ashe looked displeased.

"Then accompany me to where I may find the two," she prompted as she tried to dodge through my left. I was quicker than that.

"Why so eager to move when the night is still so young?" I asked as I gave her a gentle push on her forehead, sending her falling into the soft sand. It was rather amusing to see her surprised expression, I must admit. It was almost addicting.

"Don't… don't do that," she demanded as she collected herself and started to stand up. Being the wonderful gentleman I was, I offered a hand in assistance, one she coldly pushed away. I sighed with a smile. Well, it's not as if I had expected her to take in my presence so openly. Our relationship could definitely use some help.

"I won't if you stay put like a good girl should," I told her, mimicking her crossing of arms. It seems she didn't like being treated as inferior. I had anticipated none less from a former princess.

"You will allow me to pass," she said firmly.

"And if I don't?" I replied, waiting for her retort, leaning forward expectantly. Ashe didn't waver.

"Consider your days in prison after this expedition," she said. I recoiled. Prison, eh? Well, last time there it certainly was quite an ordeal, though I reckon if I should be stuck there again escaping wouldn't be such an easy matter again.

"You wouldn't do that," I stated. Ashe's eyes show with frustration, but I could see truth in them, and without any verbal confirmation, I already knew she wouldn't do that. No lady who has been graced by my presence would ever dare turn me in, especially one who needed my assistance in a time like this.

"Regardless, I ask you once more to stand aside," Ashe said. Really determined, this one was. Unfortunately, though this conversation doesn't seem to be going anywhere and is otherwise a complete waste of air, I still wasn't going to allow my amusement factor to slip away when I still had a hundred thousand ways to toy with her.

"And I'm sure you already know my answer," I replied. Ashe let out a low sigh, her lithe fingers (that really ought to be clasped around the seat of her throne than a sword) gracing her for forehead in frustration. Her lips thinned into a sure frown, and the look on her face clearly shown that she was wracking her mind for an answer. Come on, say it.

"What is it that you want?" I nearly broke out laughing. This girl was sharp, and negotiations were always a delightful thing, especially since I always knew just how to get what I wanted. A bit childish of me, yes, but there was no greater joy in the world that could surpass the delirious screeching of a toddler.

"Just something to keep my mind from being bored," I asked humbly with a wry but sincere grin. At the moment, there was nothing I would treasure more than being able to pass the night without suffering from weariness. Ashe, however, looked a bit confused a little unnerved.

"And that is?" she said cautiously, already smelling foul danger in the air.

"Nothing much," I answered. "Just a little company in the lonely night." Ashe gave me an odd look. I elaborated, "Nothing more than a pleasant chat until the two other gentleman return, I mean." Return from their useless expedition that is otherwise pointless unless they honestly wanted some alone brooding time so badly is what I really meant to say.

"So you're saying that in order to let me leave, then I would have to stay here?" Ashe said. "What kind of bargain is that?"

"One that suits my tastes," I replied. It seems I was holding all the cards here. "And besides, are those two really more charming than I?"

"If you mean your sarcasm as charm, then I would have none of it," Ashe bit back. I had to admit, it did kind of sting. Sarcasm? What in heavens was she talking about? I was always dead serious on my remarks— never one for jokes.

"If you mean you being difficult as taken as cute, then you would be the most adorable thing in Ivalice." See? No signs of sarcasm. I rest my case. This girl has no clue what she is talking about.

"Fine then," she said in a voice cold enough to put out the small fire. "How about a different bargain, then?" She likes to negotiate too, eh? We have a lot more common than I originally foresaw. "I shall keep you company so long as you do not loot anything from Raithwall's Tomb."

"So be it, Princess." Of course, my fingers were crossed.

"So be it, then," Ashe finalized, and with that a mist of silence descended upon the two of us. I was actually quite content at just staring at the ring on her finger, but Ashe was the one who seemed impatient now as she broke the calm silence with a snappy question, "Are you going to say anything or are you just going to stare?"

"Well, I will tell you it's hard not to stare," I said truthfully. "That's a really nice ring you've got there."

Immediately, melancholy washed over her face as she clasped her other hand protectively over the other. Her eyes became distant and foggy, as if remembering some horrible incident that she had so carefully wrapped away. Her hands became tight and rigid as she carefully guarded her ring from view. Had I struck a chord in her complicated heart? (Well, I was certainly having a poetic moment.)

"Did I… say something?" I asked, quirking an eyebrow at her, who was drowning in her little pool of misery and gloom. I silently begged that she wouldn't start crying anytime soon, because even a man such as myself had a hard time dealing with watery saline.

"No, it's all right." All right? Really, now? I detour you from taking two steps west and you break out in controlled rage, and yet now it seems that I've stumbled upon a painful memory, and it's perfectly fine? You have a bad way of hiding your secrets, Princess, and I do so love pilfering secrets.

"Dare I ask is that a wedding ring from Rasler?" I prodded, resting my chin on my hands and leaning forward in curiosity. Ashe drew a sharp breath, clutching her hand close to her heart and shooting me an offended look. Well, that look told me that's just about as far as I would get with the ring ordeal for now. "Fine, I won't say anymore on that matter."

"Thank you," Ashe muttered softly. And that was that, as they would say. Nothing more of that. Looks like time to pick at something else of interest. I waited for her to make the first move, and after yet another long silence, she finally broke the ice: "So, what's it like, being a sky-pirate?"

"That's an odd question coming from someone of your caliber," I remarked. Former princess and iron-fisted when concerning justice wanting to know about the life of a sky-pirate? Regardless, I certainly didn't mind talking about my journeys: "It's the best thing in the world, of course—flying through the sky without a care in the world and having all bow in awe and kneel in worship at your feet."

"Excuse me?" Ashe asked. I half expected her to tack on a 'I see no one worshipping you like god' at the end, but I guess this was the wrong person to expect it from. Maybe a guy like Vaan would have the nerve to ask that.

"Women, I mean," I said. Oh, how I dearly miss my friends I met at pubs after a downing a few drinks. Thankfully, Fran always dragged me out before I committed an act of humility upon myself. "Believe it or not, I was quite the lady's man." Ashe looked skeptical.

"I was asking about your views upon the Empire and that of Ivalice," Ashe explained with a straight face.

"Is that what you were wondering about?" I laughed. So typical of Ashe to have asked that. I decided to humor her. "Well, I haven't much to do with the Empire, though I do admit their air fleets are rather annoying when one is trying to fly pass them unnoticed, but there's the fun and rush in that too, I'll admit."

"I mean as in a political view." Did this girl have the imagination of a wooden crate? Political views? She wants to talk politics with me? Our relationship seems far worse than I had imagined. Far, far worse. Might as well try to patch up some of that distance now, I suppose.

"What are your views?" I asked. Ashe seems to have brightened with newfound inspiration. I immediately knew that it was a bad decision to have asked her that. Given this opening, I fear she could go on for eternity with this 'political view' or hers. Better strike it down before it begins and I end up falling asleep on her. "Actually, why don't we do something else?"

"Like what?" Ashe asked suspiciously. Yes, like what? What is there to do in a land where there's nothing other than finely ground rocks that seemed to have fallen in love with the color of your irises? I had better think quickly before I'm due for a political lecture from Lady Teacher Ashelia.

"Let's play a game," I said lamely, failing to come up with anything better.

"Alright," Ashe replied, delicately folding her hands on her lap as she sat ready to receive whatever game I wanted to play. She must be really intent on this bargain of ours. "I'm rather interested in what sky-pirates do for fun." Really? You are? "If I am to succeed as future queen, then my knowledge and views must be extended, even to those of your kind." My kind? I was my own species now, was I?

"Alright," I said, drawing out the vowel to buy some time. "Let's build a wall of adjectives pertaining to one person. How say you?" Short notice. You couldn't really blame me.

"I rather like it," Ashe said. There must be more to this than meets the eye. "I would like to take this opportunity to find out your true feelings towards our other companions." And there you have it.

"Vaan, then?" Vaan was the only one who I would actually dare say anything about. To Fran it would be disrespectful, and I really wouldn't want to be talking about her. Penelo was a sweet girl who deserved no comments, and Basch and Vossler just had a lack of adjectives to their names.

"Brave," Ashe replied without hesitance. Well, I do have to admit he was brave, if brave meant rash and sneaky like a thief.



"Ravenous." Ashe looked at me oddly… yet again. "Well, he did eat his portion and half of his little lover's back then."

"Right," Ashe said. Dead silence once again. It seems to be a curse of the desert, silence, that is. At the rate we're going, we'd be dead before we even pull out what each other's favorite color is, even though something like that was so insignificant at this standpoint.

"Are you devoid of humor or something of that sort?" I asked at last, getting rather exasperated in our short jolts of choppy conversation.

"I believe that there is a time for everything," Ashe replied ominously.

"Then it's time you should start developing a lighter side of ladylike," I said. "Try smiling here and there or laughing a bit, if it isn't too hard for her royal highness." Strangely enough, a dry smile creped onto her lips. She seemed a bit uncomfortable in it, and whether it was a genuine reaction to my comment or just an attempt to ruse, I do have to give her a pass for trying. "You do look rather ridiculous, you know? I'm sorry if I was offensive."

The sand must be getting to her head, for then the princess did something I hadn't really predicted. That dry smile of hers relaxed into one much more natural—a gentle and kind quirk of the lips that reflected on the more tender side of the girl. Most surprising of all, she broke out laughing. I knew my way with women were good, but this was certainly the fastest any has ever reacted to my comment.

"You are the first to have ever said anything like that," Ashe said, settling down, but smile still in place. "'Stand strong, be brave for your country, bear the burden that has been handed to you with pride.'" A sigh of reminiscence escaped her lips.

"Sounds difficult," I said. Ashe nodded.

"At times it can be, but so long as there is at least one soul standing with me, then I shall fight," Ashe said with a determined look.

"Then I shall stand with you," I said, hoisting myself up. Ashe blinked in my direction. "Let's try this again, shall we?" And once again, I offered her a hand in assistance. Unlike last time where I was coldly pushed away, we actually gained some middle ground here.

"Thank you," Ashe said. I had a feeling it was the 'standing with her part' more so than my hand, but she took it nevertheless.

"Well, now we're standing together. Isn't that lovely?" I remarked. We were indeed standing side-by-side, and together no less, though something told me her 'standing together' part goes deeper than this. "And you know, I think I will take you up on that offer to find those other two."

"Will you?" Ashe asked, evidently pleased.

"As long as you don't start sprouting politics again," I said, giving Vaan a hard kick in the shin as we strolled by.

Now, yes, that really is the end of our lovely first real progressive conversation. We would have a small handful more in the days to come, but that was then and this was then some other time ago. Of course, Raithwall's Tomb was still devoured by Fran and I, every inch of it, an anger that Princess had quickly forgotten once we were hauled onto the Leviathan again. Quite nostalgic, actually. And yes, this really honestly entirely is the end.

A/N: Happy birthday Jenny! Please inform me when you have accidentally crashed into your first stop sign or banged into a telephone pole.