"Come on Balthier!" Ashe heard Vaan hiss what he thought was quietly to Balthier. The Princess looked over her shoulder to see the sky pirate in question pinching the bridge of his nose and wincing. She let herself watch for a moment longer, since the sight of Vaan pleading with Balthier was entertaining. But instead of listening to find out what the commotion was about, she returned to her business of picking up rations for their journey across the Tchita Uplands.
Within moments she had brushed the incident to the back of her mind as her and Basch planned their meals through until Archades. Fran stepped in, giving some insight as to how long the Sochen Palace may take to travel through, which encouraged them to pick up some extra dried rations.
"Hey! You boys coming?" Vaan and Balthier looked behind them to see Ashe, Basch, and Fran leaving the vendor's area and Penelo standing at the top of the stairs with her hands clasped behind her back.
"Just a minute Penelo!" Vaan called over to her. He watched her roll her eyes and skip towards their other comrades.
"So why exactly am I assisting you in this?" Balthier asked as they picked out a few more things.
"Because it's supposed to be a surprise for Penelo, so I can't exactly ask her to cook. And I just figured you'd understand Valentine's Day and all…" Vaan trailed off. "Look, we can make enough so you can have a Valentine's Day dinner with Fran."
Balthier only laughed. "And you think Fran has any interest in a Hume holiday?" The sky pirate shook his head.
"Well, what about Ashe?" Vaan asked.
This only made Balthier raise an eye brow. "Did you just suggest that I ask the Princess on a dinner date by the campfire tonight?"
"Well, why not?" Vaan asked as he gathered his extra items and paid with some of Balthier's private funds.
Balthier folded his arms and thought about it for a moment. He glanced at the Princess, who was paying no mind to Vaan and himself lingering at the vendor, as they all did that from time to time. "Well, could be interesting," he muttered to himself before picking out a couple extra things.
"Are we all prepared?" Basch asked as Vaan and Balthier approached. With their nods, they traveled towards the Tchita Uplands.
Fran fell back to walk with Balthier. "What are you up to?" She asked him plainly.
"Fran, I don't know what you're talking about," Balthier replied nonchalantly.
Fran gave him a knowing look. "Your eyes betray your words."
Balthier just sighed, choosing not to answer what Fran already knew. Fran let out a rarely found chuckle as she walked ahead. Balthier could only watch the Viera curiously, wondering what was in that mind of hers.
They continued on, battling their way through normal monsters and normal weather. It was enjoyable to all of them. The sun was shining on them, there was a cool breeze from the ocean, and clouds to occasionally blot the sun from their eyes. They got a lot of travel time in for the day, due to the fairly flat terrain they were on.
"Majesty, I believe it is best if we rest now," Basch said.
Ashe folded her arms across her chest and watched the sun disappearing. A frown crossed her face, but they had, in fact, traveled the entire length of the Phon Coast. She looked around to see that Penel had already sat down at the first opportunity and Vaan looked a bit exhausted himself. "Very well," she replied. And with her command packs were dropped and their night time routine began.
There was a lot whispering about the campsite that evening and Vaan looked more energetic then usual. This seemed oddly peculiar to Ashe, but she paid it little attention. Vaan had a habit of catching a very strange second wind once they settled for camp, thought this seemed more nervous then before. "Princess!" Came the Archadian voice that snapped Ashe out of her thoughts. She looked over towards Balthier and gave him a slightly nasty look. Balthier seemed to ignore it. "Could you and Penelo go gather us some firewood? Everything in this area's too damp to start with."
Ashe shot him a look that clearly said she was suspicious of the way everyone was acting, but had no time to say anything before Penelo jumped up and seemed rather excited to be out with her future Queen. "Ready then Penelo?" Ashe asked, addressing the young girl.
"Yup!" Penelo chirped as she pulled an empty pack onto her back. "Bye guys!" She yelled and waved as her and Ashe left.
"All right, ready to begin preparations Vaan?" Balthier asked while cracking his neck.
"Preparations?" Basch asked, his eyebrow quirking up.
"The boys are playing," Fran interjected.
"Playing?" Basch asked, somewhat amused and confused.
"It's Valentine's Day!" Vaan chirped.
"…And because Vaan can't cook, I got roped into this," Balthier finished.
Basch laughed. "Would you like some assistance then?"
"Well, Basch, maybe you could…" Vaan started, but that was the last Ashe was able to hear.
As they gathered small twigs and dry brush and placed them into Penelo's sack, Ashe could not help but notice Penelo skip around a little bit more then usual. Not that she minded. After the conversation she had had with Balthier that morning, she was feeling a mix of negative feelings. Fear, anxiety, anger… She had been brooding on it all day, with her only distraction the resuppling at Hunter's Camp. So it was nice to see Penelo extra cheerful. It almost began to lift her up.
Until Penelo reminded her it was Valentine's Day.
As Penelo chatted on about the various Valentine's Days she had had before and after the war, Ashe could only think about the one she had with Rasler. It was a perfect, private day for her and her new husband. She stopped for a moment and held her hand over her wedding band, feeling a plethora of feelings over all the memories rushing at her.
"I remember Reks danced with me the Valentine's Day before he left for war, and Vaan had to dance with me to try to show him up, but he's really not a good dancer." Penelo wrinkled her nose as she laughed with her last statement. Ashe let a thing smile out before returning to her gathering.
"We should have enough for our fire," Ashe announced. "There should be enough for our way through Sochen, since I do not believe we will find much of brush there."
"The pack's pretty full anyway," Penelo added as she began to walk back.
Ashe walked beside her. "Are you sure you can carry all that?"
"I'll be fine, thank you," Penelo answered with a smile. They walked together to the campsite, Penelo setting their pace since she had the heavier load, although Ashe felt a burden much heavier.
"Is that… a… fire?" Ashe asked as they approached.
"Looks like it…" Penelo replied, now slightly confused.
The pig tailed teenager dropped the pack of brush as the girls walked by on of their tents. Ashe folded her arms and glared towards the fire where Balthier and Vaan were rushing around. They watched as Balthier gave Vaan a small push on his shoulder and pointed in the girls' direction. Vaan fiddled for a few more seconds before running over to Penelo. "Happy Valentine's Day!" He said as he ran up to her, and Ashe watched as Penelo nearly melted on the spot. Vaan grabbed her hand and rushed her away.
Ashe was watching Vaan and Penelo so closely, she did not even see Balthier approach her. He was standing next to her when he spoke. "Entertaining, isn't it?"
"Here we are in the middle of no where," Ashe mused in a low voice. "And how happy they are." There was silence between them before Ashe turned her head towards Balthier. "And I thought you were waiting on us to bring back dry brush," Ashe raised her voice at him.
"Well, Basch whipped out some soldier survival skills and got the fire going," Balthier explained despite Ashe's glare. A smile crossed his face. "And Vaan had this Valentine's Day dinner for Penelo all planned out."
"So that's what you were doing earlier?"
Balthier shrugged with his trademark grin. "Who was I to not offer my assistance?"
"Without compensation?" Ashe sighed. "And made me party to your plot?"
"Needed someone to. Fran and Basch are scouting ahead and I couldn't exactly help Vaan prepare dinner if I was gathering brush." Ashe watched as Balthier start to walk away from her. He turned and motioned for her to follow. "Come have dinner with me, Ashe."
Ashe blinked a few times. "Are you trying to have a dinner date with me?" And Ashe had her answer when he saw the coy grin on his face. It had all been a set up for Vaan and Penelo to have a date, and Balthier and her to one as well. "Is that appropriate?" She asked, articulating every syllable.
"I'm sorry. I just didn't think you had a date for Valentine's Day."
Ashe glared furiously at him. "I am on a mission, must I remind you? I do not have time to play."
Balthier seemed to ignore her. 'All work and no play makes a certain princess a very frustrated girl."
Ashe didn't think that she could get any angrier at the sky pirate. "I believe you are frustrating me more at this moment."
"I made you favorite meal!" Balthier sang as he walked back towards the campsite.
Ashe would have argued, but her stomach rumbled loud enough that it could have scared off a coerl. She silently walked with him, an act that admitted defeat in this round.
Balthier invited her to sit down where he had already lit a candle. Ashe could not believe she was giving into this. "So I apologize that it's not quite like your favorite meal, but some of the vegetables aren't easily found on short notice in this region."
Ashe was very surprised at what came next.
She had been expected a stew with her favorite seasonings, but instead Balthier placed a plate with her favorite fish found only during the Giza rainy season. There were some vegetables that were all too familiar and a sauce that had been watered down to spread out for further use. But to have a meal such as this in the middle of no where was a treat. And for the moment that Ashe's face lit up, Balthier caught it before sitting down to join her with his plate.
Ashe motioned to the candle. "A bit overdone, wouldn't you agree?" She asked, trying to make herself sound more irritated then she really was.
"Well Princess, this is very underdone. In fact, this is a little embarrassing to call my own work." Ashe just rolled her eyes as Balthier smirked. "Well, enjoy my Lady Ashe," he said, holding his canteen up as a toast. Ashe let out an amused smirk and held her canteen up.
They ate in silence for a few moments, not out of lack of respect, but more because their day's travel had made them hungry. "I know not quite fit for royalty, but how's your meal?" Balthier asked.
"Delicious," Ashe replied in between forkfuls. Her eyes looked between her plate, the campfire, the setting sun, and the orphans having their own dinner. Had she looked at Balthier, she would have seen his eyes watching her carefully. "Thank you for dinner," Ashe told him once finished with her dinner.
"You're quite welcome," Balthier answered. "But I'd hope you go for a walk with me." Ashe looked at him suspiciously. "Well, it'd a bit difficult to take you on a proper date out here, but I can improvise." The sky pirate rose and held his hand out for the princess. She sighed softly, but decided to humor him. But only for that reason. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was secretly becoming a source of comfort for her, or that she needed a distraction from her mind. She took his hand, but continued her look of suspicion.
But he was a perfect gentleman. As they walked up a nearby hill, he kept his hands to himself, and chatted to her about airships, dungeons, anything to pass the time. "You know, you're not a very interesting date Princess. Is this how they teach you date in royalty?"
Ashe let out a small snort that was something between a laugh and a noise of annoyance. "My apologies," she finally replied.
Balthier just smiled. "Not a problem Princess." A few moments later they reached the top of the hill, and watched as the sun finally finished its dip behind the horizon. As it did the stars became more prominent and lit up the night sky. They sat on the grassy knoll and pointed out stars across the sky and shared small talk of the legends they loved as children.
"Almost forgot," Balthier said out of no where. Ashe looked over at him curiously as he rummaged through one of his hip packs. A moment later, he removed a small tin from it, opened it, and held it out towards Ashe. "Got a little something for you."
Ashe looked in surprise as she pulled a small chocolate from the tin. It had been a very long time since they had had anything sweet, since their rations needed to be practical and cost effective. She popped the chocolate into her mouth, savoring the soft chocolate rolled in cocoa. After a second one, she turned to Balthier. "Vaan's idea too?"
Balthier gave her that grin again, that she found herself looking forward to a little more every time. "What? Of course not. The leading man has to have a little something extra."
Their eyes locked, and suddenly everything disappeared around them. Maybe it was the moon, the stars, the gentle wind through the grasses, or the nearby ocean waves, but the atmosphere between them changed. Not a word was said between them, and Balthier leaned in and tentatively pressed his lips against hers.
For a moment, she had no idea what to do. But her eyes closed and she leaned into his kiss.
They broke away for a moment, but in the next moment their lips were pressed back together, and Balthier's hand was on her cheek. It was a perfect, sweet kiss, one she had not expected from a sky pirate. But as she learned this morning, there was more to him then met the eye, and she was really getting interested in that guy. And it seemed that he was willing to share it with her.