Title: For the Girl Who Once Wore Black

Characters/Pairings: Basch/Ashe

Rating: K+

Warnings: None

Summary: The past, the present, what changes, and what remains the same. [Basch/Ashe, somewhat

Author's note: Something about this pairing just seems right to me, despite the rather large gap in their ages, so I thought I'd let Basch contemplate and see where it went. I ended up making up a lot about their background, but I think that it fits well enough. Done for thesandsea with the themes of 5. The past, 6. The present, 46. Sleep, 78. Propriety, 92. Relax

Incidentally, I will write a request for whoever can correctly identify the somewhat obscure and rather oblique reference in the title. I just happened across an amusing parallelism in my mind and decided to make a challenge out of it. As a hint, I will say a knowledge of literature would be helpful, and that black is the key word. As for the reward, I'll write a short fic about prettymuch anything you ask me to, as long as it isn't Basch/Penelo, Twincest, or porn.

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or ideas in FFXII.

For the Girl Who Once Wore Black

The former princess lay prone on the bed, covered by sparse sheets, smiling very softly to herself as her former knight ran his fingers firmly over her bare shoulders. It was not so scandalous as one might think it appeared, merely a simple massage given from a servant to his ruler in the hopes of taking away a bit of the strain from the weight of the world that lay on her shoulders. Somehow, the action made the both of them feel strangely at home. It hearkened back to an earlier time, when she was known as a princess, not a rebel, and he as a knight, not a kingslayer.

She had been only five years old when the two first had met. A small, bright-eyed child too young yet to know the responsibilities of ruling a kingdom. She had taken a liking to him almost immediately, which quickly earned the young man a place not only as a royal guard, but occasionally as a royal babysitter, as he seemed to have a way of calming the girl that many of the officials entrusted with her care distinctly lacked. It mattered not what had upset the young princess, all it took was a short chat with her favorite guard, a little back massage, and possibly him telling her a story and the girl was about as relaxed as a sleeping kitten, particularly so in a handful of cases in which the girl fell asleep before the story had come to a close. Needless to say, he was rather ingratiated to said other officials for this semi-magical ability.

Such incidents became less frequent as the girl grew older as formerly innocent actions came to be seen as improper and the child began to develop her own sense of self-control that needed not be regulated by such outside intervention. It was not terribly long before he no longer held the unofficial title of royal babysitter and no longer saw much of the girl outside of formal situations. Somewhere in the midst of those infrequent meetings the girl had become a woman, and Basch had found himself reeling with shock when he learned that the little girl who had liked to be told silly stories was soon to be married, though he did what he thought was a fantastic job of removing any sign of said emotion from his face at the time. He recalled that sometime before the wedding in a very rare moment of privacy, the princess had confided that she would continue to miss his stories, but she supposed she was going to have someone else now to give her massages.

All in all, she seemed happy to be wed to Rasler, and so he was happy for her, though in all honesty his opinion would matter little to anyone but himself no matter what it happened to be. How could he have known that what seemed such a happy occasion as that wedding was to be such an ill omen for the princess and the kingdom of Dalmasca? How could he have known then that not long afterwards, he would be the one to return the lifeless body of that same prince who had made her so happy and watch as the happiness drained from her at first inkling of the news? He could still see the look on her face, the horrified, pleading look that asked him to rub her back and tell her a story so that she would calmly fall asleep and when she awoke this would all have been some kind of terrible dream. Alas, there was nothing that he could do to grant her that wish. All he could do was watch and wish that there was someone other than the limp body before him who would be able to pull her out of her misery. Close as they had been, it was not a job for him. All that was in his power was to go back to battle and put forth some effort to prevent any further tragedy from occurring, and even that was not to be.

How torturous it must have been for her to hear the news that the man she had trusted for so many years had turned out to be the very same that killed her father and took her kingdom from her! It was no wonder that their first reunion after two long years had been one of snarls and distrust as opposed to one of happiness and comfort. The fact that she allowed him here now bespoke a level of forgiveness and trust that he thought he would never regain, no matter how far from the truth were the tales of him that she had heard during his imprisonment.

Now he looked at her, aged beyond her years by the tragedies that had befallen her, and saw nothing left of that little girl who played at being a princess. It was difficult to believe that the woman here was no greater than nineteen in her years, and already a widow. The concept struck him as amazingly cruel, as did many things in the lives of himself and the lady Ashe, and it made part of him wish to drop to his knees and apologize, though for what specifically, he knew not. He only knew that the woman had been victim to far too many unfortunate twists of fate, none of which she had deserved. Part of him wanted to scoop her up in his arms and hold her until all the pain and suffering melted away to nothing and she drifted into a pleasant slumber in his embrace as she had as a child. Part of him was forced acknowledge that such thoughts were not so chaste as they would have been then, that the feeling of her skin was as much foremost in his mind as he systematically relaxed the muscles in her back as was simply relieving her tension. In one instance, his thoughts became overridden by some deeper force and he found himself leaning over to touch his lips very lightly to the woman's shoulder.

"Basch?" she questioned, turning to head to cast a glance up at him with one eye as he withdrew, embarrassed by his actions. He was merely her servant. Who was he to think of anything more? Even more than the fact that he was nearly enough older than her to have been her father, she was still a married woman. It mattered little that fate had torn her husband from her two years prior or that the pirate had taken the ring that had symbolized the union, he knew that her heart was still as tied to the prince's as it had been on the day of their wedding. He could only hope that his impropriety had not offended the young woman.

"Forgive me, I overstepped my bounds." The comment was met without further pressure for an explanation, only by the princess again closing her eyes and a very slight smile appearing on her lips.

"Tell me a story?" she requested, apparently considering it most fitting to simply ignore the momentary aberration in their relationship to one another. He smiled somewhat awkwardly.

"You realize I was never very good at telling stories," he commented. It was a statement of truth as far as he was concerned. He had never precisely understood why the princess had so enjoyed them. She chuckled quietly, the sound muffled further by the pillow in which her face was halfway buried.

"For old time's sake?" she goaded, eliciting a quiet sigh from the man.

"Alright," he conceded, continuing to lightly prod at the woman's shoulders, "this is a story about a girl. Can you guess her name?" He began, attempting to toss together a story at a moment's notice, a skill in which he was appallingly out of practice.

"Amalia?" He nodded giving a corresponding noise of affirmation. It was a little known fact that the name had originally belonged to the heroine of many of his stories. Even when she no longer trusted the man who had invented it, the name had been so ingrained in her mind that it was the first to come to her thoughts in the choice of an appropriate alias.

"It's been a long time since Amalia has gone on an adventure. She's a grown woman now, and whenever she thinks about how much fun she had when she was little, she finds herself a little bit bored. So today she's going to go out and find a new adventure. She picks a direction and begins to walk, not sure what exactly she's looking for, and finds herself at the beach. She hasn't been to the beach recently, and she stops to enjoy the view and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. Unfortunately, she's so wrapped up in enjoying the beach that she doesn't notice that there is a monster sneaking up from behind her until it jumps to attack her. She doesn't have enough time to grab her sword, and the creature knocks her off of her feet. She's afraid she won't be able to fight it off. Suddenly, the beast is knocked away from her by an arrow, and she looks up to see a man riding a chocobo. She recognizes him, but he does not recognize her because the last time they met she was a little girl and she has grown. She doesn't think he looks much different, though." Basch paused a moment to direct a question at Ashe. "Do you know who that is?"

"Noah," came the murmured reply. Basch nodded again, aware that the woman knew she was right even though she couldn't see the gesture. No one had ever said that Basch was especially creative at coming up with names for his characters. Given the origin of this particular name, it was perhaps somewhat surprising that Basch would deign to include him in this story, though less so when one realized that it was not the man's brother that this character was meant to represent.

"Anyway, Amalia is grateful for him saving her from the creature, though she insists that she could have beaten it herself, which she probably could have if she had been able to get to her sword. He begins to remember her when she tells him that. No one else he has met has ever managed to seem so grateful and so ungrateful at once. When he realizes who she is, he dismounts his chocobo, tying it to a nearby rock, and the two sit down together to talk. She tells him about the years that she has spent at home, not out playing and having fun adventures like she used to and how she had become bored. He tells her that he thinks he may have had too many adventures, and that he happened across some trouble and was thrown in jail for a while, but now he is free again and back to his old habits of rescuing people in need. The two laugh at how much has happened since their last meeting and how much things have stayed the same despite that." Basch paused a moment to watch the woman, whose eyes were closed, a small smile on her lips, then continued on. "During the conversation, Noah notices how much older and more mature the girl seems to have grown since their last meeting, that she has become incredibly beautiful, and while he would not say it out loud, wonders if perhaps he is beginning to fall in love with her…"

He trailed off smiling to himself as he observed that the woman's breathing had slowed and her body relaxed in slumber. He almost would not have dared add the last part had he not been relatively sure that the princess had already drifted into unconsciousness. Perhaps she had not changed as entirely from her childhood self as it sometimes appeared. In near silence, he stood and exited to the door, where he paused to look back at the sleeping woman once more.

"Rest well, princess," he whispered softly, then shut the door and left her to slumber in peace and dream of a life without tragedy.