Disclaimer: I do not own FFXII.
O O O
So he's not exactly shining, and he's not exactly wearing armor, but damn it, he's close enough.
"Lost?" he asks in that smug tone of his--the tone that makes Penelo want to punch his face in.
Of course she's lost. What else would she be doing wandering around the dinky little port down mindlessly? But she says, "Yes, Balthier," in the most respectful voice she can muster. "I would appreciate it greatly if you could escort me back to the..." She looks around for a second. "The main street, I suppose."
He chuckles and steps toward her, shaking his head and placing two hands on each of his hips. "And Vaan?"
She frowns. "What about Vaan?"
He chuckles again, a little more spirited this time, and stops right in front of her, staring down at her as she raises one eyebrow. "You're attached to him at the hip." He waves a dismissing hand at her. "One would think that he'd always be around if you needed help."
She huffs. "On second thought, I don't want your help." She crosses her arms and begins to deliberately walk around him, toward where he just came from. Surely that would take her back to...well...someplace that wasn't here.
He watches her out of the corner of his eye and then smiles. "I wouldn't go back there if I were you."
She stops suddenly. She may be desperate to get back to the group and away from him, but he still knows this town better than she does. "Why not?"
He raises a hand, as if to say, "Go ahead." But instead he says, "Do as you wish."
Penelo glances nervously between Balthier and the alley he had emerged from. She doesn't really have any words, just anxious little whines.
Balthier begins to walk away, strolling far too casually for her tastes. After a brief moment of indecision, she shouts, "Wait a minute!" and runs to fall in step with him.
He doesn't even glance at her, but his amusement is apparent by the way his lips curve into a sly grin. "No, no, you don't need my help. Really, I wouldn't want to intrude on your rebellious phase." He glances down at her when she pouts. "It's been working out so well thus far, after all."
She does something that is an instinctive act from hanging around Vaan so much: she shoves him and shoves him hard.
He probably wasn't expecting it, because he stumbles into a nearby crate, loses his balance, and almost falls down. For a moment his haughty poise is disrupted, and Penelo can't help but laugh.
He doesn't find this funny at all. "You're a naughty little girl, you know that?"
"And you're an arrogant sky pirate." She smiles deviously. "Is there any difference?"
He frowns. "That's not fair."
She opens her mouth the retort something sharp and intelligent--something that'll make him blink in bewilderment--but someone grabs her by her arm and drags her sharply toward them.
A burly--no, not burly, fat--hume man holds her tightly, smiling with only three teeth and laughing heartily. "Well, well," he croons, and his voice is unattractively hoarse. Then again Penelo doubts that anything about this man could actually be deemed "attractive." "What 'ave we 'ere?"
Penelo casts a desperate, frantic glance at Balthier, and she swears, that bastard had better help her or she'll--
"What we have here, kind sir," Balthier suddenly pipes in, and Penelo's heart leaps in joy, "is a grade-A woman." He winks suggestively and puts his arm around Penelo's shoulders fondly.
"Really, now?" the fat man drawls, using his free hand to stroke his rugged chin. "And, pray tell, exactly 'ow much is the lassie worth?"
Balthier leans back, removing his arm from her, but Penelo notices that he's stuck a small bag of flowers in her pocket at the casual display. What the hell is she suppose to with this? Potpourri him to death? "15,000 Gil."
Penelo screeches an awful remark, half because she's absolutely indignant that he would actually think to sell her and half because she's worth so much more than 15,000 Gil! Hell, she's bought clothes that cost more! "Balthier, you--"
"Quiet your pretty li'l mouth," the man barks, tugging her closer to him, and he smells like rotten sauerkraut. "Speak when spoken to, aye?"
Penelo barely catches a scowl flash across Balthier's face.
The man hands Balthier the allotted amount of monies. "My thanks to you." He smiles sort of dangerously and leads Penelo off.
But Penelo will have none of this, and she kicks and punches at the man wildly. "Let me go! Let me go, you fat pig!" They move farther and farther away from Balthier, who is staring after them as he pockets his payment. And suddenly, she is even more enraged as she lands a swift kick to the man's groin.
He grunts, but his movements barely stutter. "Feisty, are we?" he says in a strained voice. "Well, let's 'ave you save that for later."
No, no, no, no, she does not like this situation one bit! "Help!" she shouts finally, realizing that without her weapons, she can't break free from this man. She can probably wrestle a wild wolf to the ground with her agility and limited strength, but speed does nothing for you when you're caught by the arm in a vice grip. "Help!" she says again, this time louder. Very few people turn to acknowledge her, and the ones who do merely scoff and turn the other cheek.
The man laughs. "Won't do you no good, li'l one. You're as good as mine, and these people...they know it." He laughs a rolling laugh, patting his protruding belly.
Penelo thinks she might just vomit.
Soon they come upon a dingy little house, and he throws her in. As soon as she hits the floor she's up and dashing toward the open door, but he closes it in her face, locking it behind him. "Oh, no you don't."
She lets out a sob of frustration and backs away from him. "Stay away from me! I don't care what Balthier says; I'm not for sale!"
He advances upon her, eyes full of a hunger that makes her shrink into a corner, looking around madly for a place--any place--to escape from.
His hands, large and powerful and disgusting, grab her by one pigtail and drag her toward him. She sees something out of the corner of her eye--something that might just be a person, but she's not sure--before the man forces her zipper down the front of her bodysuit.
An axe that looks strikingly familiar knocks the man aside with the blunt end. And as he falls on top of her, unconscious, Balthier is revealed in all of his grinning, greater-than-thou-because-I'm-a-witty-sky-pirate glory, weapon still raised.
Penelo growls and tries to shove the man off of her. "You--you--"
"Bastard?" he finishes for her, helping her roll her assailant off, axe still clutched tightly in his right hand. "Yes, I'm very aware of that." And as soon as Penelo is free of the fat man's body, which is really, in her opinion, just a flesh sack of lard, she punches Balthier square in the jaw.
He stumbles back again, rubbing the forming bruise with his left hand and frowning. "Violent little girl," he mumbles, staring at her with disappointed eyes.
"What do you expect?" Penelo asks, standing up and forgetting completely about her unzipped bodysuit. She doesn't really notice the way Balthier's staring at her almost-exposed breasts. "You tried to sell me!"
"Actually," Balthier corrects, "I did sell you." He tears his gaze away momentarily to start rooting through the man's pouch at his massive hip. "The transaction just wasn't completed, is all."
Penelo turns several shades of scarlet. "You...I can't believe you! So you were really going to let him--and me--and--and--?"
"My, my," he chides, finding what he was looking for: a skeleton key. Maybe a little too old-fashioned, but he doesn't seem to mind. "You're not very articulate today, are you?"
"Of course not!"
He strides over to a door, slipping the key in the lock. "Well, I suppose one would think that the extra breeze would get a bit distracting."
He stops tinkering with the lock to look at her over his shoulder, and she notices that he's not looking at her face.
She looks down and feels like exploding into dust. She fumbles with the zipper, finally managing to zip it all the way up. "You're such a bastard!"
"So I've been told."
"Ooh!" She stamps her foot angrily and crosses her arms. "Just wait 'till Vaan hears about this!"
Balthier laughs. "Running to Vaan again? That doesn't very well mesh with your perfectly-executed streak of independence, does it?"
Something clicks loudly, and Balthier steps back as the padlock falls from the door dramatically. He turns to Penelo and smiles charmingly. "Care to take a look?"
She huffs. "At what?"
He swings open the door, and a room full of nothing but gold, gold, and the occasional gem is displayed to her. It's like something from a fairytale--something from a dream--and she gasps. "This..."
Balthier points at the man lying on the ground. "This," he says, tilting his head to summon Penelo to his side, "is Captain Helie. He's an infamous pirate of the sea, but unfortunately for him, he's not very smart." He points to the treasure room. "And this," he says, grinning as he watches Penelo stare with stars in her eyes, "is his booty."
"Amazing," Penelo says, bending down to carefully pick up a handful of gold pieces. "Balthier, how did you know?"
He shrugs and reaches over to deliberately stick his hand inside her pocket. "I didn't."
She jumps and bats his hand away. When he retracts the offending appendage, he is holding the small bag of flowers again.
She frowns at him. "Was that necessary?"
He doesn't even blink. "Completely." He pulls open the bag and removes a small, very, very small, in fact, object.
"What is that?" Penelo asks.
He is about to place the square in his pocket, but he halts his action in order to hold it up for Penelo to see clearly. "A tracking device," he says simply, grinning in a lopsided manner. "To track you, of course."
He laughs and puts it safely away in his hip-pouch. "It would be terribly unassuming," he clarifies, "for our dear Captain Helie, here, to find a bag of fragrant flowers in a woman's pocket."
Penelo frowns deeper, because she knows he has a point. But that doesn't make him any less of a bastard, and she shoves him again. But he's ready this time, and he sidesteps her outstretched palms.
"Hey," Penelo growls.
Balthier raises an eyebrow at her. "What? I'm not going to stand and let you hit me."
"You're supposed to, though!" Penelo shouts, balling her fists at her sides. "Because you're--"
"A bastard, yes, I'm aware of that." He dangles the silver skeleton key in front of her face. "But I'm a damn clever bastard, and this is a fact you know very well, I'm sure."
She grumbles some obscenities, and he steps inside the room.
O O O
"Would it be wrong," Penelo asks sometime later as they're lugging quite a few bags from Captain Helie's "secret" base, "if I said that I hated you?"
At this, Balthier laughs. "Not entirely. I am a bastard, after all."
She nudges him with her hip, and he trips over his own foot, almost--almost--falling down. He makes a disgruntled noise in his throat and shifts the bags he carries in his hands.
"You'll have to accompany me on my little adventures again," Balthier says a few minutes later, when his pride is no longer smarting. "You make a very...beneficial partner."
Penelo frowns up at him. "How so?"
"Fishing for compliments, are we?"
He smirks. "You're...useful."
"And by useful you mean inconspicuous?"
He nods and turns that smirk upon her. "You're absolutely right."
She rolls her eyes. "In other words, you want to use my stunning good looks to lure in potential victims."
"Now, now," Balthier hums as they turn a corner down an alley. "I wouldn't say that. However, that's an interesting prospect."
"Forget it," Penelo says firmly. "I wouldn't travel with you if my life depended on it."
For a moment, Balthier is dumbstruck. "I--excuse me?"
Penelo tries not to grin. "You heard me, pirate-boy."
He turns slowly away from her. "I see. Well, you're as obstinate as ever."
"Look at it this way," Penelo says, losing her fight against giggling. "You still have Fran to lure in those 'customers.'"
"It's a bit difficult," Balthier sighs, "when the 'innocent little girl' in question is a seven-foot-tall viera superwoman."
Penelo smiles cunningly. "I'm telling Fran."
The color drains from Balthier's face. "Please don't."
O O O
A few weeks later, when the loot's been divided between Penelo, Balthier, and the group's pot, they are ready to split into groups to train for a while.
"Alright," Vaan says, folding his arms behind his head. "Let's work with different people today."
Ashe nods in agreement. "That sounds like a good idea."
"I will accompany the princess," Basch says immediately.
Vaan frowns. "You accompany her every time, Basch. I said different people."
"I will accompany the princess," Basch says again, and this time, Vaan does well not to say anything different.
"Then I guess it's just Fran swapping with me," Penelo says, not really registering what this means.
Balthier grins deviously, but this goes unnoticed.
"Right," Vaan says as Basch and Ashe make their leave. "So then Fran will go with me and you'll go with Balthier." He glances at the two sky pirates. "Is that okay?"
Balthier gets that aura that he's feeling unusually smug and puts himself in that stance--the one where he keeps one leg impeccably straight and crosses the other over his foot gently. "Of course."
Penelo isn't really paying attention when Vaan grins in a goofy way at Fran. Fran sighs tragically.
Balthier is at her side in an instant when the two leave. "What was that," he says slyly, "about not traveling with me, even if your life depended on it?"
Penelo suddenly realizes what sort of predicament she's put herself in, and she scowls. "Such a bastard."
He laughs and turns around, motioning with his hand for her to follow. "At your service."
She bumps him with her hip again, but his grace is not interrupted as his smile widens. "You'll have to try better than that, Penelo."
Penelo makes it a lifelong goal to shove Balthier so hard that he falls very ungracefully.
Balthier just whistles and pretends he doesn't care.