Title: The Game
Characters: I'm not telling. You'll only know now if you picked these two out of the character list.
Rated: T
Summary: Penelo gets a mysterious invitation to Balfonheim, only to get involved in a game set up by our own dashing sky pirate.
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy 12 or anything related to it. I only own this story plot and the words that go with it.


The Game

Penelo made her way through the streets of Rabanastre rather precariously. She was attempting to make her way back to Migelo's, but the large basket in her arms was obstructing her view of oncoming foot traffic. Thankfully, most of the pedestrians were kind enough (or smart enough) to move out of her way as she walked down the streets among them.

Vaan had told her yesterday afternoon that there were no rumors of treasure and no pressing hunts to vanquish, so they could take a break for a bit to go home. For a week.

Needless to say, she had been thrilled.

It wasn't that sky-life was bad. Oh no. The riches and sights were more than enough to compensate for any trouble they had come across. She had been thrilled to hear that their break would take them back home because…well. It was home.

It was where all her orphan friends were. It was where kind Migelo lived. It was where Old Dalan stayed, in that same house and in that same chair; still giving advice to the same people that had known and cared for the old man since they could all remember.

It held a lot of memories for her and Vaan, and though he wouldn't say it, she knew he was just as glad to be back as she was.

Nothing else felt as warm to her as the Dalmascan sun.

She warily made her way to the door to Migelo's, hollering for someone to open it for her.

Kytes was the first to answer, his eyes bulging at the sight of her two thin legs poking out from behind and under the large basket.

"…Penelo?" He asked, making sure it was in fact her.

A sigh.

"Yes, Kytes. Now, will you let me in? This isn't very light, ya know?"

He nodded quickly, moving out of the way, telling her when she could go. She shuffled her feet across the floor, making sure nothing was in the way as she cleared a path to the dining table. As soon as she reached it, she plopped the basket down on to it, sighing and stretching her fingers and arms from the tightness of holding something in the same position for too long.

"So Kytes, did any mail come in today?"

Kytes nodded, wandering through the house until he found her pile.

She started sifting through it.

"Junk, junk, junk, I'm a sky pirate, I don't need bills. Junk, junk, ju- Wait. Kytes? Who sent this one?"

She handed him a cream colored envelope with her name penned neatly across the front.

He shook his head.

"Dunno. It was just in there. Go ahead and open it. I wanna see what it is."

Penelo took it back from him, slowly letting her fingers glide under the tab that held it shut.

Once it was open, she noticed a neat piece of paper inside. She pulled it out gently so as not to wrinkle it or smudge it. In the same neat script, it read:

To Penelo Lamira Marick
Most Infamous of Navigators
You are most cordially invited
to visit me in Balfonheim.
I await your arrival with
much anticipation.
I Promise to make it worth
your while.

Sincerely,
You shall see me soon

She scrunched her brow together, frowning in confusion.

Kytes spoke first.

"It sounds like you have an almost admirer."

She looked up to him.

"Almost? That sounded like a definite to me."

Kytes shrugged.

"I'm a guy. What do I know?" He answered, jokingly.

Penelo giggled, smacking the back of his head lightly as he walked past her to the kitchen. Once he was gone, she stared at the paper, trying to decipher the words. Whoever wrote this, was apparently waiting on her in Balfonheim.

She wondered if she should go, seeing as this was her week long break. She took one last look at the invitation and made her mind up. She began to seek out Vaan.

"Please, Vaan?"

"No."

"But Vaan!"

"Penelo, no. You said you wouldn't buy me that stuff, and that's the only way you're going."

Penelo threw her hands in the air. He just wasn't listening.

"Vaan, I wanna fly the ship to Balfonheim. I won't be long. I promise to come back and make it worth your while. I'll buy you that weapon you were wanting so badly. I'll even get you some new armor to go with it! Now, come on! You know how I am with the purse strings!"

Vaan turned around, sighing as he gave her a once over, checking to see if she was lying. He crossed his arms in thought. He made the mistake of looking to her eyes, and saw them silently pleading. He immediately turned his eyesight to the vase against the wall in the den. He gave one more sigh, shaking his head.

"I can't believe it, but…okay. Whatever. Take it. God. This is so unfair."

Penelo gave a happy squeal, launching herself at his form, wrapping her arms around his neck. He instinctively wrapped his around her waist, spinning once as he knew that made her happy. Vaan set her back down, but she didn't let go.

"Uh. Penelo, you can let go now."

Penelo gave one final squeeze before taking a step back. She flashed a bright smile to him before turning to snatch the invitation from the small table behind her and made her way to her room to pack.

As she did, she began run the names of people through her head. And as she did that, questions as to why they would do this also ran through her mind.

Why do they want me to go Balfonheim?

Who is it?

Ashe? No.

Basch? Highly doubtful. She giggled at the thought. Basch didn't play games like this.

Larsa? Also highly doubtful, seeing as he's Emperor now. He didn't have the time.

Balthier? That's a definite no. He doesn't know my full name.

Fran? No way. I feel bad for even thinking of her name.

She started wondering if the orphans were playing a prank on her. She stopped packing. She knew just who would know. She ran out of the house, making her way to Lowtown.

"What is it, child?"

Penelo smiled, feeling like a little girl again in his eyes. He always made her feel like she was eight years old again, eyes bright and full of all the wondrous sights her large city held.

"I need to know if you've heard any information of the orphans planning any pranks lately."

The old man seemed to think for a moment, scratching his chin and looking her over.

"I have not."

When she seemed to become nervous, he asked her once more.

"What is it, my child?"

Penelo sighed quietly, pulling the invitation out of her bag. She handed him the invitation, and watched his elderly eyes sweep over the document.

"The paper is of a high quality, and the script is of someone well-educated. I believe you may just find some adventure on this trip. And perhaps something…more?"

Penelo looked to him, her head cocked to the side in question.

"You know I don't tell everything, child. I've said all I will. Now, you must go. This person awaits to hear of your departure from the eyes they have set about in this city."

Penelo's heart beat swiftly.

"They have…people? Then are you so sure it's safe?"

He gave a chuckle.

"You doubt my wisdom now? Not a wise decision. Yes, they have eyes in the city, but they mean no harm. They only help the plan along."

Penelo lifted a hand to her heart, trying to keep it in check. This was already starting to feel like a game.

She nodded, giving him her thanks and telling him she'd come back soon with a homemade meal for him. He nodded, handing the note back to her and sending her off with a wave. As soon as she was gone, he motioned for a young boy to come to him. The boy complied.

"Run and tell Filo that Penelo will be on her way shortly."

Penelo began the ascent in to the sky, altering the knobs and dials as she saw was needed. Soon, she was flying nearly effortlessly through the skies, marking her path to Balfonheim with the auto-pilot. Once the auto-pilot was set and cut on, she unbuckled herself from the seat and let her feet rest on the chair next to her. She watched the skies fly past her, the clouds parting for her.

This was a magnificent way to live. She understood why Balthier did what he did when he was younger. If she had to choose between stuffy, political figures or the clouds as her preferred company, then she'd choose as he did. She'd take to the skies, just as he had.

She made it to Balfonheim by late afternoon, walking from the Cerrobi Steppe where she had dropped the anchor. She watched with wary eyes, looking for anyone who seemed "well-educated" and at least had some money, since the paper was high quality.

No one came even close to matching that description here. She traversed through the streets to find the bar closest to the shopping area. That seemed to be a popular enough place. There could probably someone who had information here.

It seemed to be full of all kinds of patrons, all here for their "after-work-drink". She ambled up the bar, asking if anyone had asked for someone by her name. Every bartender said no.

As she was about to walk out, someone called her name.

"Penelo Lamira Marick? Yeah, I 'eard of her. Viera come in 'ere not too long ago. Gave me this slip of paper, she did. Tol' me to give it to a lil' blondie 'bout like you."

Penelo made her way to the old bangaa who held a slip of paper in his hand. When she went to reach for it, he held it further from her reach. She huffed, glaring at him.

"Its important that I get that message, mister. Please hand it over."

He gave her a look.

"'at Viera tol' me to give it only to Penelo Lamira Marick. 'ow do I know you're her?"

Penelo seemed puzzled.

"Well…what would convince you?"

"The Viera tol' me to ask sometin'. She said ' What would Penelo do at night during watch?'"

Penelo blushed a little.

"I danced. I wasn't supposed to, but I did. I couldn't help it!"

The bangaa laughed loudly.

"Hon', I ain't judgin' ya. But, yeah. You danced. 'ere ya go."

He handed her the slip. The same cream colored paper was now folded in half. She opened it.

Penelo Lamira Marick
You've travelled far,
so I'm sure you must rest.
But I'm still waiting,
I expect you to show yourself
in front of the Reddas Manse
by sundown tonight.

Sincerely,
You shall see me soon

P.S. I still plan to make this
worth your while.

Penelo huffed. More games. She wondered who was watching her in this city.

She thanked the bangaa for his time, and left the bar, treading across the stones and wood that made the streets in the port city. She passed the weapon shop and the gambit shop before seeing where she needed to turn to get to the Reddas Manse. A guard stood out front just as he had back when Reddas was still living. He was the only person there. Penelo began looking around for anyone else who may be hiding in the shadows. There was no one hiding.

"Um. Sir?"

He looked her way, his eyebrow raised.

"Your name Penelo?"

She stopped a few feet away from him, stunned.

"…Yeah…Why?"

He reached in to his pocket, pulling out a note. She noticed the color.

Cream.

He handed it to her, and once more, it was folded in half. But this time, one the outside of the folded paper she saw her name written neatly. She opened this one as well.

Penelo Lamira
This man who guards this
slip of paper forgets far too
easily. I had to write your
name on the note. Perhaps
you should take a trip to
the weapons shop to pick
up something for Vaan.
Maybe he would like a bit
of armor to go with it.
I'll see you there, my dear.

Or will I?

Sincerely,
You shall see me soon

She sighed. She was getting tired of this. Who the hell thought they jerk her around like this? Who the hell did she know that would even think of something this in-depth?

Nothing came up in her mind as she walked back to the weapons shop. She opened the door, making her way to the one-handed swords that Vaan seemed so fond of. If anything, she could probably get a better weapon here than in Rabanastre. Vaan had better be happy. Once she had one picked out, she walked to the counter, her bag of gil already out and in her hand. She placed the sword on the counter.

"22,000 gil, please."

Penelo almost choked, then remembered that as far as weapons go, this wasn't too bad. She had found more expensive ones during her travels with everyone two and a half years ago. She handed the clerk her money, taking the sword and the strap that came with it. She made her way over to the armor section, looking for anything that she knew Vaan would need. Once again, after she'd made her choice, she walked to separate counter, placing her item on it.

The clerk gave her a scrutinizing look. Penelo looked around to make sure she was the one he was looking at.

"Would you happen to be Penelo Marick?"

Penelo sighed, dropping her gil bag on the counter.

Not again.

She nodded, and started pulling out her latest note.

"Does it look like this?"

He nodded dumbly, pulling another folded slip of paper from underneath the counter. He handed it to her. She opened it, grumbling lowly so the clerk couldn't hear her cursing an unnamed person.

Penelo,
My darling I know
you must be furious with
me now, but please keep
in mind that I swore to
make this worth your
trouble. Please don't
give up so late in the game.
You're almost there.
I expect to see you back
on your ship, posthaste.

Sincerely,
I swear you shall see me soon

She sighed, closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose.

"--8,000 gil." She caught the end of what the clerk said.

"Excuse me, I didn't hear you."

"I said this piece of armor costs 8,000 gil."

He looked at her expectantly as she looked to him in a confused manner. His eyes flashed to her purse and then to the armor before going back to her. She followed his eyes, then it dawned on her.

"Oh, geez! I'm sorry." As she dug around her purse the right amount she mumbled, "You wouldn't believe the day I've had."

He didn't say anything but "Thank you" as she rushed out the door with the weapon strapped to her hip, and the armor under her arm. She saw that the sun was starting to set at the edge of where the ocean met the sky.

Is it really the late already?! This person had better love me.

By the time she made it back to her ship, the sun was even lower, already half way gone. She rushed inside, and stopped as she looked to the wall to her right.

A note was stuck to it.

A cream colored note. She read it.

Dear Penelo,
You've held yourself
together in this so far,
and I appreciate that.
You're almost done.
One last thing to do.
I want you walk to
your top deck.
I'll be waiting,
my dearest Penelo.
I swear to still
make it worth your
while. Please be
patient.

Yours truly

She felt her heart skip a beat. They were here. They were waiting.

She dropped Vaan's things in his cabin on her way to the stairwell that led to the outer deck. As she got to the top of the stairs, she stopped.

Did she want to know who was up here?

What if they were crazy?

What if…what if they were playing some cruel joke on her?

But what if they were serious?

She took a deep breath, evening out her heartbeat. She pressed the button to open the door to the deck. At first, all she noticed was that the deck was lit up with candles of varying sizes and shapes. She also saw the last tendrils of sunlight stretching across the flat surface, making the candles look even more majestic with the dramatic shadows behind them. Her gaze rose to see a figure standing on the far side of the deck, his arms (she knew it was a male by the figure and his short hair) crossed as he stared at the ocean with his back to her.

That outfit…that's…!

She gasped as realization hit her. The clean white sleeves and intricate vest matched with the tight black pants. His short light brown hair was blowing in the sea breeze. He turned to look at her.

Her heart almost stopped beating.

Balthier was as beautiful as he'd always been. The full lips that were always grinning were grinning as well, now. His sharp, angular face was lit by the remnants of sunlight and candlelight together. His shoulders were broad and his hips were narrow. His toned legs were as long as they had been.

But his eyes were what stopped her breath.

His beautiful hazel eyes. They were shining in the light. They seemed to watch her very intently and very focused.

The only thing left was for him to—

"My darling Penny. It's been so long." His voice drawled in that rich accent that no one could copy.

Oh, God. There he went. He did the last thing.

He spoke.

His eyes were laughing at her, she just knew it. He always seemed to, but she had never minded. His teasing was fun and light. Besides, having a handsome man like Balthier pay any attention to her at all was a godsend.

"Yes, it has, Balthier." Did she just speak?

He leaned back against the railing, uncrossing his arms to place his hands on the rail behind him.

"I was amazed how many people were willing to help me with this. I thought I was on many more bad lists than this, but I'm not below taking what I can get. Are you surprised?"

Penelo nodded slowly, her breath coming in slowly as her eyes widened. He'd practically just confessed to setting up the whole thing.

"A…a little. I was expecting a prank. A joke. For someone to tell me it was all some cruel plan Vaan had set out to get me back for something I may have done to make him pout."

Balthier threw his head back and let out a beautiful laugh. He was still chuckling as he pushed himself away from the rail to walk calmly to her. He stopped a couple of feet away from her and began his mindless habit of fixing his cuffs.

"But not this? Then I did very well. You weren't supposed to be able to guess correctly."

She almost felt like hyperventilating. Almost.

"I followed the notes. But…why?"

Balthier let out a small chuckle.

"There's the question I was waiting on. I actually had a bet started with Fran about how long you would wait to ask. It seems I've lost. Farewell to 100 gil."

Penelo couldn't help but notice how lighthearted he was about this. It just seemed so…him.

"You've led me to gambling, dear Penny. Dare I say, you've made me worse of a man than I was to start with."

Penelo giggled. This was how their teasing usually went. She remembered the first time he had poked fun at her.

--

She wandered the streets of Bhujerba, trying to find an item shop. Balthier had made a note to tell them how important it was that they were well-stocked for the future, and she had volunteered to do the item shopping.

Now if only she could find the bloody place.

She felt as though she were going around in circles, swearing she had seen that moogle sitting on that rail before. She felt a hand rest on her shoulder. Penelo jumped, spinning around, ready to attack.

A chuckle met her fierce stance, and she stopped and held a hand over her heart.

"Balthier! Oh my gosh! Don't scare me like that. That's not very nice." She scolded. He was still chuckling as he came to rest an arm around her shoulders and began leading her through the city.

"My darling, Penelo. I was on my way to the armory when I happened to see you walking by looking so lost. Now I can't get my own shopping done. Its all your fault, Penelo. If you hadn't looked so lost, I could've completed my mission without fail."

Penelo jumped out of his arm's reach, holding her hands close to her heart. She looked to be on the verge of tears.

"I was just…I mean…I didn't mean to! I just…I just don't know where it is!"

Balthier shook his head, coming to wrap his arm around her shoulders once more.

"Penelo, my dear, I was merely joking. You'll learn in time that I may do that every now and then. Maybe then you'll be able to keep up, yes?"

Penelo blushed, nodding. She felt so stupid.

"Penelo?" She felt a finger under her chin and felt the pressure of it pushing her face up. Her eyes met his just as they had when she had handed him back his handkerchief. Her blush deepened.

He smiled at her.

"You really are at fault. Perhaps if you weren't so confoundedly adorable, I could have finished my job."

She grinned.

"Well, maybe if you had been doing what you were supposed to be doing, instead of watching me, this wouldn't be an issue, now would it?"

He gave her a grin. She caught on quick. He dropped his hand from her chin, placing his arm back around her shoulders.

"Fine, fine. I'll take some fault, but my heart still says it's all on you, my dear."

--

"Your decisions are your own, Balthier. I had no say over whether or not you gambled with Fran on me. Besides, why would you wanna gamble against Fran? She's Fran!"

He laughed, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders. She tensed at the contact.

"You're absolutely right, Penny. Betting against Fran wasn't my brightest of plans, but I dare say that it helped convince her to play along with my little show. With you as the star, of course."

Penelo blushed, her eyes finding a far off candle interesting suddenly.

"But to answer your question as to why, Penny, I think if you see I went through all this just to get you here, then you most certainly know why. You must."

Her heart sped up just a little bit more, if possible. She felt a soft hand come to rest against her cheek. It was warm and gentle. Her eyes met his again before quickly looking far off again. His other hand came to rest on her other cheek, tilting her head to look directly in to his. Her breathing hitched.

Penelo had never seen this look on him before. His eyes were full of…something. Something that no one had ever looked at her with. He took a cautious step closer, watching her response. When she didn't change, he took another small step forward to bring their bodies flush against each other. He could feel the heat from her face. She was so beautiful.

"If you only knew…dear Penny." He whispered, his face coming closer to her's with each passing second. His nose rubbed against her cheek slowly while his lips lingered so close to her own.

"If I only knew…knew what?" She choked out.

He took a deep breath, inhaling her scent. She smelled of the ocean breeze and lilies.

"If you only knew just how long I've wanted to do this."

His lips brushed against her's as he spoke. That smell was really getting to him, and he began feeling a little lightheaded, but in a good way. Like he was happy and blissful.

He watched her eyes for a moment to see if anything changed for the worse. Once he saw nothing, he took his chance.

His lips met her own softly, pressing gently. His hands still cradled her warm, round cheeks while her own hands had come to rest on his chest.

He pulled away slowly, not really wanting to, but knowing she needed a break to get her thoughts together. Her eyes opened slowly, and he knew they were clouded with desire.

Balthier loved this look on her, and swore to himself to try to get it there as often as possible.

Penelo stared straight in to his eyes as she mouthed something. He couldn't understand it.

"What?" He asked, confused.

"I…Oh my God. I love you."

He felt his heart jump as she finally said the words he'd wanted to hear. He smiled, leaning his head down and to tilting it to the side. His hands dropped to her waist as his mouth lingered over her's again. This time, though, she closed the gap, her arms wrapping around his shoulders. She unconsciously dragged her fingers through his hair, hearing him groan in their kiss.

His arms held her tighter, fingers stretching across her back to claim their territory.

They parted for only a moment until seeing each other's eyes. They dove right back to it with much more passion than before, hands and mouths never getting enough it seemed.

She pushed him away, though, once everything finally registered. He kept his arms around her, his chest heaving with much needed breaths as her's followed suit.

"Something wrong?" He asked once he was able to speak.

She shook her head quickly.

"No, dear God no. I just…I can't believe it's you. I mean…I…I never thought…I never imagined of everyone you could have had, that you chose me."

He chuckled, his nose resting against her throat, getting even more of her scent locked away in is memory. He felt her arms wrapping around his shoulders again, and a hand trail up the back of his head to cradle his head against her.

"Penelo."

"Hmm?"

"I love you, my darling."

She smiled.

"I've waited so long to hear that from someone. Who knew it'd be you? But another question. What do we do now?"

He straightened up a moment to look in to her eyes.

"I had hoped you would understand why Vaan asked for those things. It seems you still haven't grasped just who all was involved."

Penelo's eyes widened.

"Vaan was in on this? So me getting the weapons and armor wasn't necessary?"

Balthier chuckled. His lady love sure had some temper. However, if all things went as planned, he could find a way for her to channel that anger in to something more…productive.

"It's a peace offering. A trade, per se. I told him what I wanted and he named his price. It's your going away gift to him, that is… if you want it to be?"

Penelo looked stunned. Vaan was getting to be a better actor in his years as a sky pirate.

But...leave Vaan?

But leaving Vaan meant staying with Balthier.

"I…I would love to!"

Balthier smirked.

A sly look came across her face, and Balthier began to feel wary. The girl was too smart for her own good. That look could mean anything.

"So, tell me. When do you plan on making this worth my while?"

He grinned, his hands dropping to her rear as he hefted her weight up. She gasped loudly, her hands seeking out his shoulders to balance herself. She unconsciously wrapped her legs around his waist. She stared at him, eyes wide and curious.

"Oh I plan to start soon, my dear. Very, very soon."