Xonelel: Ah, my first Final Fantasy XII fic. I'm more experienced in the field of Kingdom Hearts humor, but I suppose I can write romance fairly well! Ashe and Balthier are SO CUTE! I LOVE THEM SO MUCH!!!! I had to write a fic about them. D

Oh, and this story is set near the end of the game, in Giruvegan, mild spoilers story and location-wise, but I'll be focusing more on the relationships

And remember when Balthier took Ashe's wedding ring, and promised to give it back once he found something more valuble? Heh… a perfect story idea unfolds.

Slight Penelo/Vaan, also.

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A group of six was staring at the unbelievably beautiful crystal, a swirling orange sparkling beauty in the middle of the strange ancient city, Giruvegan.

"That crystal's big enough to BE the city!" a blonde, feminine teenage boy said loudly, spoiling the moment of awe. Another blonde teen, a girl, with French braided pigtails, punched the boy playfully.

"Thanks, Vaan! You totally ruined it." She spoke reproachfully, and Vaan merely shrugged and put his hands behind his head.

"I was just speaking my mind, Penelo! I remember someone told me to do that more often…" He looked at her pointedly. Now it was her turn to shrug.

The others in the group were not quite as close to the edge of the precipice, and were discussing what to do next.

One woman was very tall and tanned, with rabbit ears. Her armor barely covered her enough to be decent, but it was the Viera way. She wrinkled her sensitive nose.

"Are you sure that you're able to be in here, with all the mist, Fran?" Ashe asked. The Princess of Dalmasca, leader of the resistance, dressed in a very short pink skirt and white top, with gold armor encasing her legs. Ashelia B'Nargin Dalmasca, widowed to Rasler of Nabradia. She did not notice who was observing her features carefully. Two people, actually. But both for entirely different reasons.

Basch Fon Rosenburg was a Dalmascan knight, branded as a traitor, and he had already sworn to protect the lady Ashe with his life. He was observing her to make sure that she did not get into trouble.

The second one was Balthier Mid Bunansa. Short brown hair, six earrings of various shapes, and a white cotton shirt encased with gold leather armor. A sky pirate, and partners with Fran, he was traveling with Vaan and company to escape the power hungry government and nethicite. But perhaps his biggest reason of all was to escape his deceiving father, Cidofolous Bunansa, who had told them to meet him in God-forsaken Giruvegan. He tried to run away from it all, but now they were searching for nethicite. It seemed to him like his world revolved around it, the power had consumed his father, and as much as he tried to run, he managed to find it again. Who would've thought that what started this adventure was a raid in the Dalmascan palace, for the treasure there. Guess what it was? Nethicite. And Vaan was there too. Thus, he wound up back in its vicious clutches.

This is what Balthier was trying to shake from his mind as he stared at Ashe, listening to her words about the best way to go about finding his father. He was staring into her eyes. Her brown, beautiful eyes. No, he mustn't think such things. She was a princess, he was a pirate. Polar opposites. His fingers subconsciously slipped into one of the pockets in his tight black leather pants, touching Ashe's wedding ring. Why did he have it? His eyes glazed as he remember the very conversation. It seemed so long ago…

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"We will have to go to Garif then, as Fran suggested. Hopefully, we'll be able to make the long journey through the Ozmone plains. We must find more information about the powers of nethicite." Ashe explained to the group. Everyone was parked in different spots around the small room in the city of Rabanastre.

Balthier stood up from the crate he had perched on.

"Not exactly close to here."

"Compensation – is that what you want?" Ashe asked curiously. He was a pirate, after all, payment for his future services would just have to come up sometime.

"Straight to the point, aren't we? I like that. Compensation? How about…" He trailed off, lost in thought, studying the princess for a moment. Balthier's eyes drifted to her left hand. Three rings adorned it. One was on her ring finger.

"… the ring." He asked firmly, holding his hand out. Ashe looked at him, the ring, then back again, desperately trying to think of another option. It was her wedding ring to the late Rasler that he had requested of her.

"This? Isn't there something else?" Ashe pleaded.

"No one's forcing you." Balthier said gently. She closed her eyes for a moment. Then they opened. She took off the ring and placed it into Balthier's open palm, attempting to give him a look of disgust, but it looked more flustered, and… could it be, curious?

Balthier grinned.

"I promise, I'll give it back to you. As soon as I find something more valuable." He said, putting one hand over his heart and placing the ring in his pocket with the other. Ashe turned away from him.

"What do you mean, 'something valuable'?" Vaan asked.

"Hard to say. I'll know when I find it." Balthier stated.

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"Balthier. Balthier?" He awoke from his reminiscing state to Penelo poking him.

"Hrm… oh, Penelo. Is it time to go?" He took out his gun, ready for some action.

"No, it's late. We're going to make camp here tonight. You need to help Basch pitch the tent!" Balthier sighed, dug into his pocket and made sure the ring was still there, then followed Penelo around the corner to a small section of the steps towards the crystal, with a beautiful view of the orange nethicite, burning and projecting light like the sun.

Balthier and Basch started setting up a tent like shelter, there was one for the girls, and one for the boys. Fran was swiftly setting up the girl's tent.

The camp was set up after much work from everybody. Penelo had used fire magic to light up a piece of the metal walls that Vaan had ripped off. The fire had turned an eerie green color, reacting to the strange metal, and lighting up the faces of the comrades huddled around it.

"Brr, it's cold in here." Penelo murmured, burrowing herself into Vaan's arms. He looked at her, alarmed, but then settled comfortably against her.

Balthier was seated between Fran and Ashe. Fran was very tired, though she did not seem it, and her eyes were closed in a sort of daze. Ashe was staring, thinking, into the fire. Basch was watching Balthier with a calculating expression. Balthier ignored him.

"How can you not be cold, princess?" He asked softly. When Ashe realized he was talking to her, she turned her head slowly, as if it was weighed down.

"It's bearable." She replied grimly.

"Ah, but comfortable?"

"… not particularly." She smiled slightly at him as he got up and fetched a blanket from their pack of supplies, returning and wrapping it around Ashe.

"Is that better, princess?" Balthier cocked his head to the side questioningly.

"Please, stop referring to me so formally. We have been traveling together for a while now. Call me Ashe."

"Alright, prin- Ashe." He said, settling down next to her. Closer than he'd been before.

"Do you still have my ring?" Ashe asked, gulping down her sadness. Her thoughts seemed to have echoed his. But unlike him, the ring only reminded her of sorrow.

"Yes. Why?"

"Well, you said that you would give it back once we found something more valuable… this nethicite might be the thing."

Balthier frowned. He wasn't keen on any sort of magicite, and he was wondering why Ashe wanted the ring back so badly, if it only brought her pain. Perhaps she couldn't let go of her former life, before the resistance.

"Magicite is not what I'm after, trust me. Is this about Rasler?" He spat the name with more disdain than he had planned, and Ashe flinched as if slapped.

"…Perhaps." She sighed.

"Ashe, you have to let go of some things. Rasler… is gone. The ghost you see is a mere illusion. Trust me. I see my own ghosts when we're near such strong mist."

Ashe spoke quietly now. "Who? Who do you see?"

"My father. Before he was a man of greed, of power. When he was just… Cid. Dad." Balthier's voice wavered as he talked. Ashe's gaze changed from suspicious and cautious to empathetic. As if they both could feel that the conversation was not to be continued, they merely stared into the fire. Basch, satisfied, wandered into the tent, followed by Vaan and Penelo, who had been dozing. Fran had woken up and was walking briskly towards the tents herself. Ashe and Balthier remained.

Apprehensively, Ashe tilted to one side, towards Balthier. He pretended not to notice her. Then, she let herself fall all the way, resting her head on his shoulder. She seemed very tired, and her breathing slowed. Balthier didn't move. She seemed tense at first, but her breathing began to slow and she let her whole weight on him. It didn't bother Balthier, she wasn't very heavy. Though his eyes were closing, he didn't want to get up and disturb her. She looked so… peaceful, asleep. Her face looked angelic, trouble free, and devoid of the worry lines her face had come to know during the unforgiving day. Balthier leaned his head against hers, touching her soft hair, then pulling his hand away. His consciousness finally faded, and he too was whisked away to slumber.

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Xonelel: Just the start! Hope this was a good addition to the growing library of FFXII fics . review, if you've got the urge )