It was happening again, and she knew it. But she would remain in denial of it for as long as possible in hopes that lack of acceptance would make it go away.
It was their first night on the Paramina Rift after news of the Emperor's death and the death of the Gran Kiltias. Their itinerary was set for Archades by foot. It, of course, was frigid as the Paramina Rift is nearly year round, but fortunes smiled upon them that there was no wind, just a light flurry.
She had volunteered for first and second watch since her comrades were sore and the younger members of their entourage were coming down with a cold. There would be no watch for them and Basch was badly injured, so he was instructed to rest. Thus the watch was divided between her and Fran, since they needed at least one member of their party to be aware of monsters and the Empire for the rest of their trip through the Paramina Rift.
Ashe sat cross legged with a blanket over her shoulders and one across her lap. Her sword rested by her side. Truth be told, she was probably a bad choice for watch. All she could do was watch the fire and think.
And thinking was not what she needed right now. Thinking about the words of the Gran Kiltias, the word of the Emperor, the denial of her throne… It all led to two years prior when her father and her husband were taken from her. She had thought to take her own life more then once after Dalmasca had been stolen from her family's hands and its people. But once the Resistance grew, she knew she had to be there.
So it resorted to this. Huddling into herself, forcing back tears, since the future Queen of Dalmasca was not to show weakness in front of others, she knew she must have looked so pathetic. Everyone was asleep though, which provided her some comfort, but at the same time, it was even worse. She could freak out to herself, but it would take hours to calm down. The one time Vossler had caught her in such a state and sat with her and talked to her about her fears. It was amazing that within the hour she was fast asleep, something that rarely happens when panic attacks creep their way into her life.
She never thought that she would become victim to a mental disease. She could not forgive herself for being so weak. It was inexcusable in her eyes. She knew it just added fuel to the fire that stressed her and felt like it ate her inside and out, but she had pride. And she had to command the respect of everyone.
But the inevitable happened. She clutched at her knees and sobbed heavily. It was all too much for her. The pain, the fear. What if she didn't succeed? What if her people despised her for being too weak to step up to the lies of her suicide? What about the dead? The broken? Her breathing was ragged and her heart pounded. The tears just had no end, no matter what she tried.
He knew what he heard. He distinctly knew what he heard. It surprised him on one end, but at the same, he knew it was bound to happen. As he pulled his gun to his side and pulled a blanket closely to his shoulders, he wondered how many times this had already happened while she was taking guard by herself. Before leaving the tent, he checked Vaan's temperature who was mumbling something incoherent in his fever dreams. He picked up a canteen that he had picked up in Mt. Bur Omisace and went to check on the mess that was their night guard.
She had no idea he was there until she heard his arrogant voice. "Kind of difficult to closely watch us if you're sitting here letting the water works out."
Ashe turned her head away as if that would prevent Balthier from seeing her swollen eyes and tear drenched cheeks. She was absolutely outraged at his presence and his lack of tact in the situation. She bit her lip so hard she could taste the blood on her tongue. "Bite your tongue," she ordered him in the most scathing voice she could gather up.
Even if it were enough, Balthier knew better. "I believe you're doing a well enough job as it is for me. Unless of course you'd like someone to do it with, in that case…" Balthier stuck his tongue out and then bit down on it, though not as much as Ashe had bitten on her lip.
She turned to yell at him, her wet eyes glaring at him furiously. But the sight of Balthier with the tip of his tongue sticking out at her made him look absolutely ridiculous. She turned away quickly to not let him see the way the goofiness lightened her for a moment. Ashe was insistent that she would ignore him until he went away, and she could go back to her anxiety attack until it had its fill and she would be able to sleep soundly. That was her plan; that was the way she dealt with her anxiety attacks.
"Come on now Princess, I heard you crying and hyperventilating," Balthier commented turning his attention to the fire. It was blunt, but knew that beating around the bush would do nothing with Ashe.
She refused to look at him still. "So you come to mock me?" She asked, her voice the shakiest it had ever been.
"Quite the contrary in fact," Balthier replied matter of factly. "Thought you could use some company."
"Well, it is unnecessary."
"Hm, perhaps," Balthier replied. "But there should be someone to keep guard while you're showing some weakness. You should be thanking me."
"I will not have you take my guard over," Ashe replied aggressively.
"Do what you will Princess," Balthier replied as if he could care less. "Here," he addressed, pushing a warm mug to Ashe. She took the mug, if only to warm her hands at first, but was happily surprised to see hot cocoa in it. Balthier, never missing a beat, felt the need to comment to break the silence and make her more comfortable. "Picked some up before we left; figured it would come in handy tonight or tomorrow."
Ashe tried to remain expressionless, but Balthier caught the faintest of curls in the corner of her lips.
But moments later, the anxiety attack struck back, and she was unable to hold herself from breaking down again. Balthier sat by her side and watched her sympathetically. He let her sob and attempt to hide from him to humor her for a moment. "Ashe," he spoke in a voice she had yet to hear from him. "Talk to me."
"I cannot," she said slightly incoherently through sobs.
Balthier had no look of exasperation, just one of infinite patience that she would have seen had she looked up. He shifted himself into a cross legged position. "Of course you can."
She tried to resist for a few more minutes, but she was falling apart. Her arguments that she was royalty and needed to maintain herself did nothing to deter Balthier. But there was no stopping it at this point. Now the only thing would be to let herself cry out for a couple hours and then maybe she would find the ability to sleep. And she spilled everything to him against her will. All of fears and all her worries were told to the sky pirate that she wished would have just left her to her own.
And all he did was listen, drink his hot cocoa, and tend to the fire. "Well, don't worry," was his response when she was all done.
"Excuse me?" Ashe asked staring at him despite her pitiful state.
"Don't worry about it," Balthier repeated.
Ashe's enraged look reappeared. Clearly, the sky pirate had no sense priority or responsibility. How could she have let her guard down to him? Why had she not kept to herself? Or if she were to break down to anyone, why had it not been to Basch? Why Balthier of all people?
Balthier smirked upon seeing her expression. "'How?' you ask, right? You just don't. You just go. Do it."
"Balthier," Ashe started to try to reason with him. "That's entirely irresponsible."
"No," he replied, pointing his finger at her as if that aided in proving his point. "It's called not worrying and stressing yourself about something you cannot change right at the moment."
"But I cannot ignore it," Ashe pleaded with him, as if to justify the continuing panic attack.
"No, but it's not irresponsible if you have a plan and you're putting that plan into action. This won't be solved tomorrow night; this is going to take some time. And that time is best spent keeping you healthy instead of breaking down."
"You can't understand," Ashe replied bitterly.
"You think I'm just some careless sky pirate…" Balthier mused. Ashe looked at him as if to say 'Isn't that all you are?' He smirked and looked back to the fire. "You should ask Fran. That would be her logical thinking, I am sad to say."
"You are giving credit to someone else?" Ashe asked, looking at Balthier slightly surprised.
"I know, amazing, isn't it?" Balthier replied with a smirk.
There was silence as Balthier watched Ashe sip at her hot cocoa. "Holding onto the past won't help you much either. It'll just keep haunting you."
There was more silence. Balthier noticed that tears were still running down Ashe's face and that beneath her blanket she was trembling more then she should be. He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, but when she looked over, she noticed that he was still watching the fire.
But when she began to speak again, his attention was turned wholly towards her. "When this happens… I feel as though the night will never end…" She spoke very slowly.
Balthier smirked. "Well that's just absurd Princess. Of course the night will end and the sun will rise."
Ashe scowled at him again. "That's not what I meant."
Balthier scooted closer to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. His hand rubbed back and forth through the wool blanket. "You'll be fine. We'll be fine. A little bit of flurry on the Paramina Rift isn't about to do us in. Nor are the skeletons and wolves that are unlikely to approach us going to harm us tonight."
Ashe looked up at Balthier, surprised by the comfort of his words. "How can you know that?"
And the comforting tone of his voice disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared and he went back his normal cockiness. "Because it would be terribly unfitting for the leading man to die in a place such as this. No, no. It'd have to be much more dramatic then simply freezing to death."
"What about a blizzard?" Ashe asked, finding her chest a bit lighter.
"No, not even a blizzard," Balthier continued. "An avalanche perhaps, but then I'd likely just use the boy as a snowboard."
Ashe found this comment about Vaan unexpected and snorted just slightly as she chuckled. In response, Balthier continued to rub her shoulder. "I'll have you know, suggesting that you would use one of my future subjects for that purpose is offensive and unforgivable."
"Exactly," Balthier replied, slightly rolling his eyes. "Which is why you laughed at it."
Ashe went for her hot chocolate to cover up the smile she was unable to hold back.
They sat together near the fire wrapped up in as many blankets as possible, and Balthier continued to rub Ashe's shoulder and back. She listened to him idly chat about how he wished the Strahl had the same technology as the Archadians so they wouldn't have to walk all the way back to Rabanastre and something else, but truth be told, she was wearing down. Between the loosening in her chest, her heart rate slowing to a normal pace, and Balthier comforting her, she was loosening consciousness quickly. She tried desperately to stay awake to not be rude, but sleep consumed her, now that she was worn down from her anxiety attack.
Balthier could only laugh once he realized the Princess had fallen asleep. "That boring am I?" He asked the sleeping girl. "Guess I am taking your watch after all."
Balthier's gun was propped up on his shoulder as he sat in front of the fire. He had pulled Ashe closer towards him so she was sleeping soundly on his shoulder. It would have been just as easy to pick her up and bring her to her tent, but he justified not doing so by reasoning that she would be angry if she awoke and found that Balthier had dared carry her to her tent. But as Fran emerged from the tent she and Penelo shared, she could read the look in Balthier's eyes as she greeted him.
Fran quickly shooed him off to bed, and he was more then happy to oblige. He picked the Princess up and carried her to the tent she was sharing with Basch that evening, and tucked her into her sleeping roll. "Sweet dreams Princess," he whispered to her, in which he got an incoherent response. He smiled and kissed her on the forehead before walking back to his own tent to check on Vaan and then get some sleep himself.