Title: Half-Eaten Sandwiches
Characters: Penelo, Vaan, Migelo
Summary: The girl was lonely and hungry. And then she made a friend.
Author's notes: …I was eating a sandwich and thinking about giving half of it to my fiancé and a story composed itself. I love the way my mind works.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the concepts from FFXII.
In a Rabanastran alleyway, a little girl curled her knees to her chest. If she thought she had any tears left in her, they would have been streaming down her cheeks. As it was, she stared blankly at the dust by her feet, hoping that somehow everything was all a dream and she would wake up and her parents would be there again. Every few minutes, she idly pinched her arm hoping that it wouldn't hurt. It always did. Sighing, she let her head sink to rest on her knees and stared out at the street with equal passivity. People walked by, back and forth in front of her, paying no attention to a poor girl who was tired and hungry and no longer had a home.
She watched as people passed. A woman carrying a baby. A man in a hurry to get somewhere. A Bangaa going into a store. A young boy about her age carrying what looked like half a sandwich. Sandwich? That managed to catch her attention. Her empty stomach rumbled emphatically at the sight, and though she tried not to make it obvious how desperately she wanted to eat, her eyes locked on to the vision of glorious sustenance. The fact only increased her embarrassment when she realized the boy had stopped and was staring back at her. She blinked, tearing her line of sight away from the tempting bits of bread in his hand and shifted to look up at his face, hoping that he wasn't going to be angry with her for fantasizing over his food. On the contrary, he was smiling at her. Looking at his face, he was so full of cheer and energy that she couldn't help but smile slightly herself.
"Hello," she greeted him weakly, causing him to grin, if possible, even wider.
"Hungry?" he asked her, seeming to skip over the usual convention of returning the greeting. If she wasn't positively famished, she might have seen fit to correct his behavior. She was young, but when her parents were still with her, they had taught her proper manners. As it was, she simply nodded, her eyes straying with a will of their own to the piece of a sandwich in his hand, which she noticed was already outstretched toward her. She took it almost without thought and brought the wonderful offering to her mouth, but before she took a bite, she paused and looked back at the boy.
"You don't need it?" she asked. She was starving without a doubt and she would be very reluctant to give it up now that she was holding it, but some piece of her conscience reminded her that it wouldn't do much good if somebody else just starved instead. The boy nodded, smiling encouragingly back at her.
"It's okay, I already ate the other half, so you can have that piece." Without any further discussion, she devoured the pile of bread, meat, and vegetables with such voracity that when she looked up again the boy was giggling hysterically.
"What?" she asked, peering at the boy with genuine curiosity. It took him a moment to calm down enough to respond.
"You," he replied, through the remnants of the giggling fit. "I've never seen a girl eat like that. You looked like a wolf." He gnashed his teeth together in imitation of his opinion of what she had looked like, then burst into another fit of giggles. She just frowned at him until he stopped again. "Sorry, I just thought it was funny." The two just looked at each other for moment without any more words.
"Um," she finally made another attempt at timid speech. "Thanks for the sandwich." The boy just grinned.
"No problem. Besides, I got to feed a wolf!" She glared at him for a moment before she was again overcome by his infectious enthusiasm and joined in with his laughter.
"What's your name?" she asked him once she could form words.
"Vaan," he replied with that same grin. "What's yours?"
"Nice to meet you, Penelo." She smiled. Perhaps he wasn't entirely lacking in manners, either.
"Nice to meet you, too." He nodded, then took a step backward, his smile fading ever so slightly.
"My brother is probably home now, so I have to go," he told her, taking another step away. She frowned in response.
"Will I see you again?" she asked. The wide grin return as he nodded again.
"Yeah, I come by here almost every day." With a slight giggle he added, "I'll bring you another sandwich." Her grin grew to match the boy's.
"That sounds nice."
"See you tomorrow, Penelo!" he called, waving back to her as he disappeared down the street. Penelo watched his back grow smaller and disappear around a corner, sitting as she had before, her head resting on her knees.
Somehow, though, the world looked just a little bit brighter.
Penelo sat in the same place the next day, waiting for the boy named Vaan who was going to bring her a sandwich. Was it bad that she found herself thinking more about the food than the boy? It was hard not to, hungry as she was. Before she had met him, she had gone three days without eating more than a couple scraps of things she was able to find or beg off of people. The sandwich was a blessing beyond anything else she dared to imagine at the moment. If only she could have her parents back. Then everything would be okay again. She sighed and curled up tighter. Where was the boy? She had been waiting for a while now and he had yet to come. Had she missed him? Had he forgotten? She buried her head in her knees and closed her eyes lightly. Maybe she just wasn't meant to get another sandwich. That would only make sense given her luck these days.
The girl was startled out of her misery by a light tap on her shoulder. She quickly looked around to see what had touched her, finding only the very welcome sight of the boy, who looked similarly startled by her reaction. Slowly, the look of surprise on his face faded into that same smile she had seen before and he scratched his head in mild embarrassment.
"Sorry I'm here later than yesterday," he told her, holding out the promised bit of food, which Penelo gladly took and quickly consumed.
"It's fine," she replied once the last bits of sandwich had disappeared down her throat. She smiled at him, somehow feeling much, much happier than she had a few moments before. "Thanks for bringing me another sandwich." The boy nodded happily.
"No problem. My brother has a job, so I have enough money to go buy a sandwich every day," he explained. The statement triggered a question in Penelo's mind.
"What about your parents?" The boy's smile lessened at the question.
"I don't have parents," he replied quietly, his gaze shifting off to the side.
"Oh," Penelo replied, similarly looking at the ground. She knew all too well what he meant by that. "Me either." They were both silent for a minute until the boy mustered a return of his usual grin.
"But I still have my brother, so it's okay." Penelo nodded, her eyes still downcast.
"That must be nice," she commented. She didn't have anybody anymore.
"Yup, it is, because he's ten and people will let him work for them so we have money and I can buy sandwiches," he said proudly. Directing his gaze toward the girl, he added, "I can keep bringing them to you if you want. I only eat half of them most of the time anyway, so you can have the rest." Penelo looked up at him again.
"Really?" He nodded. "Thanks." There was absolutely no way she could think of to adequately express the gratitude she felt for being offered a steady food supply. He just nodded again, grinning.
"I have to go now," he told her, turning to leave. "See you tomorrow." She smiled, lifting one hand to wave.
"See you tomorrow, Vaan."
It had been over a week since Penelo had met the boy and she had come to expect his arrival with the blessed sandwich every day. In all truth, though, it wasn't just the food that she looked forward to. Somehow in the process of being hungry and lonely she had managed to make a friend. They never spent much time together, but that short time was always the best part of her day. Better than sitting around wondering what she was supposed to do and generally being ignored by most people, that was for sure.
As expected, she didn't have to wait long in their usual meeting place before she heard the familiar sound of running footfalls and the voice of the boy calling to her.
"Vaan!" she called back, waving happily. The boy paused to catch his breath when he got to her, his hand outstretched to offer her the sandwich. Up close, though, she could tell that today was different from other days. Something was wrong. This time the boy looked tired and thin and generally not good, and while he still smiled the way he always did, it seemed like it was forced. Her own smile faded as she looked him over, wondering if he was sick. She looked at the sandwich, then back at the boy, and shook her head.
"You can have it today." Vaan's eyes widened in surprise.
"Huh?" She frowned at his confused response, putting her hands on her hips.
"You're sick," she commented matter-of-factly. The boy gave her an indignant look.
"No I'm not. I'm fine."
"Aren't you hungry?"
"Not really," she lied. Half a sandwich every day was enough to keep her alive and at least somewhat healthy, but it was far from being enough to completely fill her. Right now her stomach felt like it was turning itself in knots looking for something to eat, but at the moment she was sure she was better off than her friend. A moment passed in silence with the two of them staring at each other in quiet defiance. "Eat the sandwich," she commanded. The boy opened his mouth to protest, then glanced between the girl's face and the sandwich in his hand and did as he was told. Penelo was a little sad to see the food disappear, but she was also happy because it would probably make her friend feel better. All in all, the sandwich was completely devoured in about one second. She giggled softly, continuing to ignore the pain in her stomach.
"Now who's a wolf?" she quipped. The boy just smiled back at her gratefully.
A few days had passed since the last time she had seen Vaan. Her stomach wouldn't let her forget that her food supply had been cut off, but even more than that she was terribly worried about her friend. He had still looked sick the last time she saw him and she couldn't think of any reason for him to stop coming unless something bad had happened. She wandered around the streets looking around for him and calling his name, but had so far had no luck. It was a familiar smell that finally gave her a clue.
There in front of her was a stand selling sandwiches. She peered at it for a while, more and more convinced that this must be the place where he had gotten the ones he always brought her. She waited with frustrated impatience for the vendor to have a free moment then ran up to the stand, waving for his attention. He smiled at her.
"What can I do for you, little girl?"
"Have you seen a boy about my age with blonde hair who smiles a lot?" She peered desperately at the vendor, who seemed as if he was pondering the question. Penelo held her hand up as little bit above her head. "He's about this tall," she added. The vendor nodded.
"I think I know the kid you're talking about. He comes by here just about every day and buys half a sandwich. Says he can't afford a whole one, poor kid. I give him some extra scraps when I can," the vendor told her. "You a friend of his?" She nodded.
"Do you know where he might be?" The vendor brought a finger to his chin and pondered a moment further.
"I'm not sure. He hasn't been by in a couple days. I hope he's okay."
"Thanks," Penelo said quickly before running off to continue her search. She was halfway down the street again before she heard the vendor's voice calling "Good luck" from behind her. "Stupid Vaan," she mumbled as she continued to search the city. It had taken a minute for it to sink in, but at some point the meaning of the vendor's words had occurred to her.
He comes by every day and buys half a sandwich.
And every day he gave that half a sandwich to her.
"Stupid Vaan. Stupid, stupid Vaan. Aha!" She skidded to a halt as she finally saw where he was. He was curled up in an alleyway much like she had been when they had first met, except he was laying on his side asleep. At least she hoped he was asleep. She ran over to him, dropping to her knees next to him, grabbing his shoulders, and shaking him with all the strength she could muster.
"Vaan," she said his name hoping to wake him up. "Vaan!" He slitted one eye open to look at her. "You're alive!" she observed ecstatically, stopping the shaking in favor of giving him a tight hug.
"Of course I am," he told her weakly, forcing a small smile. "I'm fine." His voice trailed off and his eyes closed again.
"No you're not," she said insistently, not getting a response. "Vaan?" She peered at him worriedly. He was unconscious again. "Vaan!" Still no response. "Please don't die, Vaan." She hugged him tighter. "Please, it's not fair." It really wasn't. First her parents had died and she had been alone and then she had made a friend and now he was going to die too because he had been stupid and given her all his food and not eaten anything himself. "It's not fair, Vaan!" Hadn't he realized that he needed to eat too? What would have made him think that giving all of his food to some random girl on the street was a good idea? She was grateful of course, and if it wasn't for him she might be the one that was unconscious right now, but still. Hadn't he realized that she was going to be sad if he died? "Stupid Vaan," she yelled, going back to shaking him, hoping with all her might that he would wake up again. If he didn't she would just keep shaking and screaming and crying until he did. "Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!"
"What's going on here?" Penelo turned around to look at the origin of the voice. A concerned-looking Bangaa was standing at the entrance to the alleyway watching the scene. It took Penelo a moment to come up with a coherent explanation, but when she did it all came out in such a rush that she would be surprised if he could understand what she said.
"I was hungry and he gave me sandwiches and I thought he had been eating part of them but he only ever got half a sandwich and he gave it to me and didn't eat and now I can't get him to wake up again and I don't want him to die, I already lost my parents I don't want to lose him too, please do something, please please please." She was out of breath by the time she finished talking, so she just kept looking at the Bangaa with pleading eyes. He nodded coming closer to join her in kneeling next to the boy.
"He's still breathing," the Bangaa observed, then turned to Penelo. "How about you two come with me and we'll get him as much food as he can fit in his stomach?" Penelo just nodded, wiping tears away from her eyes. The Bangaa smiled at her, then looked the boy over for a moment longer before carefully picking him up and hoisting him over his shoulder. He motioned for Penelo to follow as he began to walk out of the alleyway.
She trailed behind the Bangaa watching the boy slung over his shoulder with concern that was slightly abated by the presence of the adult. She smiled. Everything was going to be alright. She knew it.
"What's your name, mister?" she asked after a long moment of silence.
"Migelo," he told her. "I own an item shop." Thinking about it, she thought she might have been there a few times with her parents when they were still with her. All of a sudden, a mildly worrying thought occurred to her.
"How are we going to pay you back for the food?" she asked. She knew neither of them had any money, and she wasn't going to say no to getting Vaan food no matter what, but she didn't want to be in debt, either. It was hard enough just being broke. Migelo glanced back at her reassuringly.
"Oh, I'm sure I can find a few errands that you two can do for me. Don't worry about it right now. Let's just get your friend something to eat first, okay?"
"Okay," she conceded with relief. Maybe he would let her keep doing errands for food. She wouldn't mind that at all. "I get lots of food, too, right?" she asked, sounding much more cheerful now that she was sure Vaan was going to be okay. Migelo looked over his shoulder with a wide smile.
Penelo was happy. She didn't have her parents back. She knew she never would. She didn't even have food in her stomach yet. But she was starting to feel like she had a family again, even just a little bit, and she wasn't going to give that up any time soon. Not for anything in the world.