A/N: I started this a couple of weeks ago, and finally got around to finishing it. Just some Penelo introspection having to do with her quickenings. Basch sort of poked his way into it for some words of wisdom.
Disclaimer: --points to Square Enix-- Theirs, not mine.
The first time Penelo used her newly-learned Intercession on an enemy, she cried. Not right away, but that night, curled up in the tent with Vaan snoring away beside her, she wept into her arm as she recalled the feeling of power that had come while she danced. It had built up inside her until the light had been called to her, around her, until she was directing it to decimate her target, leaving not even a corpse to mark where it had once been.
She didn't understand, at first, why she should cry over a judge who would have willingly cut her down. She had killed more than once on this journey and she would surely have to do it again. Fiends, soldiers, judges who were all intent on ending her life…what was she meant to do? Lie down and let them do it? Ha. Yeah, right. She hadn't survived living with Vaan for so many years just to let herself get slaughtered. Not if she could prevent it.
Sniffling, she rolled into Vaan, huddling close to his warm body. She was so cold, but it was a chill that seeped through her skin and seemed to settle in her very bones. She shivered as her body tingled again with the remembered iciness of that power. Then she couldn't seem to stop shivering, and even though Vaan was radiating heat, nothing seemed to penetrate the cold within her. When Vaan started mumbling and frowning in his sleep--likely because she was making him shake so badly--she withdrew from his ineffective warmth and rolled to her knees, wrapping her arms around herself. She hesitated for a moment before crawling out of the tent.
There was a small campfire going in the center of their tents, a deterrent to keep fiends away during the night. Basch was sitting in front of the flames, staring into them as if he could draw some answer from their flickering light. His back was placed directly toward Ashe's small tent, undoubtedly in the best position to protect her, be it from Balthier or wandering fiends.
His eyes caught Penelo's movement and followed her as she approached the fire, where she sat as close to it as she could without burning herself to a crisp. She held her hands out, trying desperately to warm some part of herself, but as hot as her skin suddenly felt, the chill in her bones now seemed to be emanating outward, preventing her from holding the heat.
"Are you well, Penelo?" Basch's quiet voice penetrated over the sound of snapping, crackling logs, and now it was her turn to stare into the fire, but not in a quest for answers, only a fading hope for understanding.
"I'm fine." She tried to say it cheerfully, but her teeth chattered and she wondered if Basch could see clearly enough to notice the tear tracks on her cheeks.
His sharp eyes didn't leave her face, and it was a long moment before he again spoke. "You did well today."
"I killed a judge today."
There was a heavy silence, and Basch finally said, "Causing death is never an easy burden to bear, nor should it be."
"It's just…" Penelo wrapped her arms tightly around herself. How could she explain? How could she tell him that her dancing had always been something of beauty, something of light and life and joy? That had not been the case today; today it had been something terrible, and she hated herself for it. She hated the Empire for it. It was because of them that she was on this journey. Had they just left her homeland alone in the first place, she would never be here now. It was easier to direct her anger toward the Empire that had taken away her family. Easier to blame the horrible chill on them. Easier than admitting that this frozen feeling had been inside of her for a long time and all the power that had been flowing through her had only dragged it to the surface, where she could not now rid herself of it.
She did not know what to say, and so she said nothing. Basch continued to watch her for a moment. Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled.
"There is no shame in your uncertainty," he finally told her, still studying her.
"I don't know what to do," Penelo whispered, unsure as to whether he even heard her over the sound of the fire. She turned her gaze away from him, back into the depths of the flickering light. "The power I felt today--I never want to feel it again. It made me feel nothing, nothing but iciness. Like I was completely…" She shook her head, at a loss to put the sensation to words. "Numb." She looked quickly over at him, afraid that he would confirm what a horrible person that made her. Afraid at the same time that he wouldn't.
He sat perfectly still, but a slight furrow of his brow told her that he was deeply considering her. "You do not feel numb right now."
"I feel frozen. I don't know if that's the same thing. I danced, Basch, and someone died. I still have more to learn--more that I can learn, but how can it possibly be worth it? How can I justify it at all?"
"Perhaps you cannot," Basch said heavily. "No battle comes without a cost. No life taken without a price on your own soul. Do you truly think those we are fighting believe they are evil? Or do you think that perhaps they are fighting for a cause they believe in as well? Some, I've no doubt, are of ill-intent and desire power. Others…" He trailed off, and though his eyes were still on Penelo, they were suddenly distant, as though he was looking at something beyond her.
Penelo shivered and pulled her knees tightly to her chest. "Does it ever go away?" she asked. "This…this conflict? Being glad that you lived to fight again, but angry because you're not the same person you were before? Mourning the enemy but hating them at the same time? How does this make any sense?"
"In some, this conflict does fade," Basch said quietly, "but it is then that you must worry about what you have become."
"It was so cold. My quickening."
"Some say the power behind quickenings is a reflection of your innermost sufferings, released on your enemy," Basch said heavily. "I would not doubt this. The darkness that comes forth when I call it--that is my burden to bear. That such darkness could be inside of me is not easy to face." His eyes again searched hers. "And yet, in a strange way, it makes me appreciate the light so much more."
Penelo didn't know how that helped her. Yes, she appreciated the warmth, but it was not the cold that was the problem so much as the way her dancing had pulled the cold from her and used it for harm.
She rested her chin on her knees. "I don't know if I can ever make up for the lives I take. What if this ends, and if…if I'm still alive, then how can I just go back to Rabanastre and…how can I…?"
"Would that I could tell you," Basch said, the echoes of pain in his own voice, the weight of his deeds in every word he spoke. "This is a journey that every warrior, every soldier, every fighter has to walk, and everyone approaches from a different road. You must face your trial and see where it will take you."
Penelo closed her eyes and swallowed. "I think--I think I already knew that." She opened her eyes and dragged herself to her feet.
As she stepped back toward the tent, Basch called, "Penelo."
She looked over her shoulder at him.
"I may not be able to tell you how you must face this, but should you ever need help facing it, know that you may always speak to me and I will do what I can."
"Thanks, Basch." Penelo tried to smile at him and was afraid it came out more as a grimace. Ducking down, she crawled into the tent, where Vaan was sitting right next to the entrance. She was somehow not surprised, and she didn't have the energy to berate him for eavesdropping. She didn't even know if she had the energy to speak to him.
His eyes met hers, and there was a startling sobriety in the depths of his gaze. He didn't try talking to her, either, as she collapsed onto her blanket and pulled it around herself. Instead, he picked up his own blanket and tucked it over her. He lay down next to her and wrapped his arms around her tightly. All he said was, "My quickening burns."
And something inside of her suddenly felt like it was melting, draining out of her through the tears that slipped down her cheeks. Her arms went back around Vaan, and she vowed at that moment that whenever she could, she would change her steps and she would heal. She would bring life when she was not bringing death, for if she did not, the battles and killing and darkness would taint her a little bit at a time, and she was terrified of that. Terrified that eventually nothing would be left but a frozen, empty shell.
Maybe healing others would not erase the death she brought; nothing could ever erase that. She did not know what else she could do right now, save for abandoning her companions and going home, and even then, could she really escape the war? No. War was upon them, whether she wanted it or not.
So she would continue to fight. For Vaan, for her home, for her orphans and friends and companions. And in great need, she would step forward and she would dance her dance of death.