Disclaimer: FFXII and the associated characters all belong to SquareEnix. Any lyrics used or references to "Phantom of the Opera" are properties of Andrew Lloyd Webber. I only write, when Muse speaks to me
Chapter 1: Paper Faces on Parade
The cobblestone roads of Tsenoble were abundant with life as the sun began to set over Archades. It was that time of the year again when the secluded lanes of the prestigious district could be found bursting with festivities. Jugglers, musicians, dancers and other common street performers were allowed to frolic about, welcoming the many visiting guests to Archades' High Garden Terrace Masquerade Ball. Only Ivalice's most illustrious elite and greatest political powers were considered for attendance to this special event, but even stricter exclusivity was used when bestowing actual invitations among the aristocracy. Though this occasion was highly anticipated for the dancing and socializing, it was rather the private auction of ancient statues, glittery trinkets and rare baubles during the gala that made the invitations so well sought after.
Apart from the crowds stood one lone figure against the side of one of the walls, observing the colorful jubilee before him. A black half mask covered his upper face, hiding most of his expression, but a telling disdainful smirk graced his lips as he watched another couple dressed in their gaudiest finery pass by. 'The reward better be worth the trouble,' Balthier mused to himself as he noticed a mime approach him. Kneeling low to ground, the mime started stretching his arms above his head, straining his face as he pushed at an unseen weight, pretending to be trapped in an invisible box. "We share the same woes, my good man," Balthier muttered patting him on the shoulder and began to walk away, feeling entirely disconnected from the celebrations surrounding him.
Leaning against the railing next to the teleport crystal, he glanced up at the square's clock tower. Dressed head to toe in varying shades of Rozzarian blue and black, Balthier began to adjust the cuffs of his midnight hued dress shirt out of reflex, finding some satisfaction with this one aspect of his Rozzarian attire. Because he shared a close resemblance to the Duke Seiffitus Niora of Rozzaria, he and Fran arranged for the young duke and his wife to be detained for the evening by some 'unforeseen circumstances.' Securing the duke's invitation safely for himself, Balthier would now be able to enter the ball without arising any suspicions. Unfortunately the same could not be said for his Vieran companion, leaving him in want of a substitute partner for the evening. 'Where the devil is she?' he pondered, an irritated sigh emitting from his lips at the growing lateness of his 'date.'
Since the duke's wife, the Duchess Lenore, was well-renowned as a fair-haired beauty, immediately one name came to mind. With his most charming smile, Balthier asked the young apprentice sky pirate if she would like to attend, conveniently neglecting to tell her about the valuable relics, unwillingly to divvy up the profits any further. But Balthier should have known better than to try to trick someone as street-savvy as Penelo.
Placing her hands on her hips, the blonde stared up at the sky pirate, giving him a knowing a look. "What's my portion of the take if I help?"
Balthier raised an eyebrow, appearing completely bewildered. "There's rumor of treasure at this event, you say? If treasure is to be had at the masquerade, I would be the first there to have it. But let me reassure you, Penelo, there is none that I'm aware of." The inflection in his tone serious, pausing to add emphasis to his words. "I merely recalled hearing that one of your fondest wishes was to attend such a gala."
"Oh really?" Penelo leaned against the doorframe of her house in Lowtown, intently studying Balthier's face. "You're willing to return to Archades, the city that you fled from, just to take me to a ball?"
Keeping his charismatic smile in place, Balthier began to fiddle with his white cuffs, "Of course. That is, if you'll have me," he answered coolly. He truly loved the workmanship put into his shirt; it was extraordinary, with intricate detailing all along the collar and sleeves. But somehow he always found the cuffs vexing from time to time, just like now.
"Excuse me?" his eyes widened incredulously, surprised at Penelo's response.
"Oh please Balthier, you're a horrible liar." Receiving a confused stare, Penelo pointed down to his sleeve. "You always tug on your cuffs when you're nervous or lying." A wide smirk spread on her face, almost putting Balthier's own to shame.
"30-70," he responded, shifting his stance to try to appear a bit more intimidating to the girl. If she wanted a challenge, he'll give her one. "I still have Fran's take to consider in this."
"30-70 and a dress. I don't have anything to wear. Wouldn't want to stand out from the crowd now, would we?" Penelo dealt back, understanding the given ratios, but she still really needed a dress.
"Deal," he hastily said without skipping a beat. They shook hands on the agreement, both satisfied with the outcome. Crossing his arms over his chest, Balthier regarded the blonde before him with a soft smile, noticing the difference in her spirit from two years before. Long gone was the orphan girl who wore her heart naively on her sleeve, and in her stead was this quick witted, independent young woman, who, he might add, was quite pleasing to look at as well. A woman that befitted all of his own requirements for a partner perfectly.
"I'll instruct Fran to drop off a gown for you before the ball. She'll go over the details of the plans with you then. And if you don't mind, please don't inform Vaan of our little heist. Wouldn't want to have to worry about him getting into any mischief." He took a couple of steps back, readying to take his leave.
"Don't you mean you don't want to worry about having to divide up the profit further?" Penelo's expression alight with amusement, having caught the sky pirate yet again in his fallaciousness.
This girl knew him too well, the sky pirate realized. Shaking his head slightly, he called back to the blonde, "Perhaps that's your intent, but not mine." Giving her a quick wink goodbye, he hastily made his way out of Lowtown with his own preparations still needed to undertake.
By now the sun had fully set, the streets steadily emptying as the partygoers made their way over to High Garden Terrace. Glancing over at the clock tower yet again, he moaned. He really must talk to this girl about the importance of promptness. Suddenly, the teleport crystal flashed brightly in the darkened evening, making Balthier divert his gaze away.
"Sorry about being late," a light feminine voice called out to him as he heard the fine clacking of high heels along the cobblestone road. "Vaan wouldn't let me leave without him. He kept insisting on tagging along."
Glancing up to greet his companion, a look of surprise spread across Balthier's face. "I could see why," he murmured quietly as his eyes took in Penelo's appearance, the slightest smirk tugging at his lips. He told Fran to chose a gown in similar fashion to the duchess's own taste, but forgot that the duchess was a renowned beauty because of her love of low cut dresses. The vision before him would unquestionably amplify the duchess's reputation even greater.
Adorning the young woman before him was a light diaphanous lavender dress, that fitted around the curvature of Penelo's tiny waist and shapely hips, accentuating the low cut of the back perfectly. Only the thin straps that hung precariously from her shoulders held up the low dipping neckline, while the long gossamer skirt ended in a trail behind her, making it seem like she was gliding effortlessly as she made her way towards him. But what completed the outfit for him was seeing her normally braided hair in a sophisticated twist, with loose tendrils framing her angelic face.
"I hope its okay that I didn't wear much jewelry," Penelo stepped closer to him, her white mask in hand. "I only have what my mother left me."
"It will more than suffice," Bathier closed the distance between, "because you are by far going to be the most sought after jewel tonight." A faint tinge of rare sincerity in his voice as he looked admiringly at Penelo.
"Oh please, Balthier. Don't even bother. I've known you far too long to fall for your lines." Penelo hurriedly placed her mask on her face as she felt a slight blush creep its way across her cheeks.
"Actually, it's Seiffitus, my dear Lenore," Balthier replied as he extended his arm for her to take. There was no doubt in the sky pirate's mind that they would be attracting unwanted attention. He would probably have to spend much of his time protecting his 'young wife' from the other deviant male guests. It would be a bit more difficult to swipe some of the relics with his lovely partner at his side, but as Balthier felt Penelo's hand lightly clasp his arm, he felt that it would be worth it. He supposed an evening mixed with carefree dancing and thieving would be entertaining.
"I guess the reward will be worth the trouble after all," Balthier softly said to himself as he guided Penelo to the ball.
Since I received enough requests to continue this one shot, here is the first chapter completely rewritten (except for the last paragraph) with greater detail. I'm sincerely sorry again for discontinuing ON. But I hope to make amends with this story. It's postgame, so I shouldn't have any problems writing them together. There will probably be guest appearances from some of the FFXII cast at the ball. I'm sure you can guess who. Also, I'm thinking about making this more of a friendship fic than a romance. I have LT, which I will finish I promise, so I feel like writing something a bit different. Hope this sounds good to you.
I will also be titling the chapters after the lyrics to Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Masquerade" from his musical "Phantom of the Opera" In case any of you remember, my other penname, "lil lottie" is from this musical as well. Oh yeah, a cookie to anyone that can recognize the anagram in this story. It's a mix up of the duke and duchess's names.
Until next time!