A/N: Initially based on a song called Diane by Therapy?, but I realised I couldn't quite make someone as awesome as Balthier do something so awful to someone as sweet as Penelo. Also, my first FFXII one-shot. I fear it might be a little long, but I'll leave that up to you to decide. Feedback, positive or critical, would be greatly appreciated.

Take a Ride with Me

That day, he just so happened to need supplies, mostly in the shape of potions. That's how he came to be in the shop known by the locals as Migelo's Sundries. He'd told Fran to go and check out the Sandsea for new hunts and wait for him there. He figured he wouldn't be too long. After all, how long does it take to buy a few potions?

But that was before he overheard the argument as he was paying.

"Across the Estersand? But it's dangerous! There are fiends!"

"Well you don't think I'd send Kytes to do it, do you?"

Balthier raised his head and turned to observe the pair. One was a somewhat old-looking blue Bangaa, who was of no interest to him. The other… the other caught his attention.

She wasn't the prettiest girl he'd ever seen, but then he'd seen many girls in his lifetime, and compared to most, she ranked quite highly. She was quite small, standing at only 5'3", with a slender frame and a rather starved look about her. The white-blonde hair atop her head was tied back in stubby plaits, which would give any normal girl of her size a rather childish look, but not her. There was something mature about her facial features, now displaying her anxiety.

"Couldn't you send Vaan?" She pleaded desperately. "He never does anything."

"That's because I can never find him!" The Bangaa snapped. "The sooner you leave, the sooner it will be done. You'll find the village no problem. Find out what's happened to my supplies. Off you go now!"

Seeing she couldn't win, the girl sighed, defeat clouding her face. Balthier smirked. Such a perfect opportunity… Fran wouldn't mind if he was a little late.

Throwing the gil onto the counter, he hastily followed the girl.

"Going to the Estersand, are you now?" He asked, as casually as possible.

She turned sharply, shying slightly at the sight of him. "Yes," she answered nervously. "How did you know?"

"I overheard you," he replied simply, "Quite unfair to send someone so young into the Estersand by themselves. It's one of the fastest ways to die, going there unarmed and alone."

She seemed scared. Good. "I have to," she mumbled, fixing her eyes on the floor. "Migelo's been taking care of me since I lost my parents in the war. I run errands for him to earn some gil."

He put on his sympathetic face. "Another orphan?" He asked, voice dripping with false compassion. "I'm sorry to hear that."

She shrugged. "I'd best get going," she told him, almost apologetically. "I don't want to keep Migelo waiting."

"Would you rather keep him waiting until he can find a more suitable candidate for the job or go out into the Estersand alone and risk your life?"

His words seemed to bite her. "I have no choice," she replied simply. "I'll just do my best not to aggravate any fiends."

"Of course you have a choice," he answered. "But if you insist on going to find this village, I want to assist you."

The way she looked at him at that moment made it hard for him to suppress a predatory smirk. How innocent she was… how perfect. "You'll come with me?" She asked.

"Most certainly," he said, "Although I have a better proposition."

Her gaze was questioning now. "What's that?"

"How would you like to take a ride in my airship?"

He held his breath as she suddenly appeared nervous. "Airship?"

"Of course," he replied, still trying to seem as casual as possible. "It's docked up at the Aerodrome by the Westgate."

She was looking at him warily, fidgeting all of a sudden. "You're not… you're not a… a sky pirate, are you?"

Balthier smiled pleasantly, holding back a harsh laugh. "Don't tell me you have something against sky pirates," he said warmly. "What's your name?"

He wondered whether she'd tell him. She seemed quite anxious. Unlike his partner in crime, she was very easy to read, her emotions plastered across her pretty face and dancing in her eyes. She didn't trust him. And why should she? He thought to himself.

"Penelo," she said in a barely-audible voice

"Balthier," he replied, holding out a hand. "Come with me; I'll show you my airship. There's no need to be afraid."

And that was it. She took his hand and let him lead her away from the crowded streets of Rabanastre, away from any watchful eyes who might try to save her; to stop him.

*

The Strahl was Balthier's pride and joy. Seeing it glisten in the ever-burning Dalmascan sunshine brought a genuine smile to his face, lighting up his dark eyes.

"That's your airship?"

He turned to look at her. The sunlight on her light blonde hair made it appear a shimmering white, much like liquid pearl. He managed to suppress the smirk from playing his lips at the thought of what a treasure she was.

"Yes, this is the Strahl," he answered, ascending the steps leading into the shade of the ship's bridge. He offered her his hand again. "Have you been on an airship before?"

She shook her head as she once again took his hand. "Never. My friend Vaan has threatened to take me when he gets one of his own. He wants to be a sky pirate."

"Is that so?" He led her up the steps into the bulk of the ship. "If you don't mind my inquiring, how old is this friend of yours?"

"Seventeen, the same as me," she answered, watching him sealing the door.

Seventeen! Balthier repeated in his head. Still barely more than a child… so innocent… so pure…

"And I take it you somewhat disapprove of his plans for the future?" He questioned.

"I don't know," she said, "We're both orphans. We do whatever we can to get a decent meal. If he wants to be a sky pirate, I suppose it's better than just stealing from people in the streets. Besides, at least he has dreams."

"What of you then? Do you have dreams of your own?"

She sighed. "I… I kinda figured I'd just work for Migelo. I know it's been a while since the end of the war but… I still haven't got myself together enough to start dreaming just yet."

He finished sealing the door and turned to look at her, and as he did he caught a glimpse of the sadness behind her enchanting grey eyes. At that moment he felt a wave of pity washing over him, as he realised how lost she felt inside. He remembered the feeling of being lost, the sensation still fresh in his mind, even though it had been a long time since he'd escaped from it.

Deciding it was time to get down to business, he turned.

"Come on, I'll give you a quick tour before we leave," he said.

Obediently she followed him, continuing to talk.

"I don't mind assisting Migelo really," she insisted, "He's really good to me and Vaan and the other orphans. And he doesn't normally send me on dangerous errands like this."

"No harm will befall you while your with me," Balthier replied, his lips curling into a smirk while she looked elsewhere. He walked through the automatic door to a room barely larger than a cupboard, a fridge and a cooker squeezed into it. "Our kitchen."

She looked around, appearing slightly dazed. "You have a kitchen on an airship?"

"Well of course. When we have to lie low we can't just walk into the middle of the city in search of a decent meal. We have to fend for ourselves, and kitchens are much more preferable than cooking over a campfire," he explained.

"Do you have to lie low often?" She asked.

"Oh, we have our moments," he replied, "I believe there is quite a hefty sum on my head, but thankfully only the Empire seems interested these days."

"Who's 'we'?"

"My navigator and I. She's at the Sandsea at the moment." He moved towards the next door, which lead to the sleeping quarters.

"Won't she wonder why you're taking so long?"

"Not at all," Balthier answered swiftly, even though he knew Fran would probably be getting irritable at his lateness already, "This journey won't take us very long. I'll have you back in no time."

She was grinning, showing a set of surprisingly white teeth. "I'm really grateful that you're doing this for me. Migelo's going to be so pleased when I get back to him so quickly."

"I'm glad." It was his turn to grin, although his was deceptive. Almost time to show my true intentions, he thought, and then you might not be so grateful. He turned to the first door on his left. "These are our sleeping quarters. This one here is my room."

He gestured for her to go in. She obeyed, glancing around at the room. He liked to make his room a little home-like, with the bills of all the monsters he'd defeated hanging on the walls along with some of his own sketches and a picture of himself one of his more artistic girls had once painted for him on his bedside table, an elaborate gold picture frame around it. She scurried over to it, moving so lightly and gracefully it was like watching a ballerina, and picked it up.

Now the game begins. He placed his hand on his Altair, knowing that with it he would install the fear of the Gods into her, make her so afraid of him she would obey his every command. How he was going to enjoy this, much like he enjoyed every girl he'd done this too before. She would be the jewel of his collection: the youngest; the most innocent; the purest…

"You know…" she sighed, "I always thought sky pirates were more brutal than this. I thought they just went around stealing because they were heartless and cruel. But meeting you… it's opened my eyes, I guess. You really do have a heart."

He was frozen on the spot, hand curled around the gun, watching her silently. A heart? Really? He continued to watch her dance around, pausing to read the bills on the wall.

"Are these all the monsters you've vanquished?" She asked.

"Most of them, yes," he replied, "Although some we are in the process of tracking down."

"Wow…" She continued to stare and read.

Now is the perfect moment! A part of him was thinking. You've done this so many times before, what's holding you back now?

He remembered the sadness, the lost feeling behind her warm, gentle eyes. He thought of how perfect she seemed, so lively and, although clearly not naïve to the cruelty of the world, so innocent. He watched the way she moved, light on her feet as if she should be dancing through the skies, not here on the ground…

I can't do this, he decided, I can't take all that away from her.

She chose that moment to look around. She turned her head to the side in a questioning way, clasping her hands behind her back.

"Are you okay?" She asked, quite innocently.

He smiled, a genuine smile opposed to the smirk he'd been suppressing. "Absolutely," he answered, removing his hand from the gun and offering it to her. "We should set off now," he said. "Can't keep Migelo waiting, can we?"

"I guess not." She took his outstretched hand.

"Seeing as my navigator isn't here, you can sit in the co-pilot's seat if you like," he offered.

She laughed; a light, pleasant laughter which Balthier found contagious, and he wondered silently how he could have ever thought of raping someone so lovely.

*

Penelo was still overwhelmed by everything that had happened as she boarded the Strahl once more, having collected the supplies Migelo required and being assured that his order hadn't come through. Wanting to avoid an argument, she'd simply said she'd talk to Migelo and returned to the airship which had brought her here, and the sky pirate within.

"Everything alright?" He asked.

"Yes," she replied with a nod as Balthier once again sealed the airship door. "I think Migelo's order must have got lost or something, because the villagers have no record of it. But I have the supplies he needs, so it should be okay."

The sky pirate began heading back to the cockpit. "I'm glad to hear it," he said, "There's nothing worse than setting out and returning empty-handed."

"I guess as a sky pirate you've had plenty of experiences like that," she commented.

"Oh, I've had a few," he said, starting up the engines and preparing the airship for takeoff. "Mostly in my early years when I was little more than an amateur. Still, I have more experience than that now. I like to go as far as calling myself a professional."

"You call yourself a professional? So you're not actually a professional then?"

He gave her a look that suggested that, although there was probably some unwanted truth in that statement, he was amused by it all the same.

"I dare say I am one of the better sky pirates out there," he replied as the Strahl left the ground. "And not just because of my skill; I consider myself one of the good characters of the story. After all, I play the leading man, so I must be. I only steal from those who deserve it."

"Who deserves to be stolen from?" She asked, almost rhetorically as she did not expect him to answer.

"I'm fairly sure you'd agree that the Empire deserves it," he answered simply, "They have stolen far more than just material riches from both Dalmasca and Nabradia, wouldn't you say?"

"But you're Archadian, aren't you? At least, you sound Archadian."

He took a moment to think on her question before giving her his answer.

"Say Dalmasca were to become ruled by a corrupted law system," he said quietly, "Would you embrace the new system, even though you could see how unjust it really was? Or would you leave, even though it meant turning away from your homeland?"

She did not answer this time. She gazed at him a little while longer, before staring out of the windscreen of the cockpit, remaining in total silence for the rest of the short journey. As they touched down at Rabanastre, she sprung up.

"Thanks, Balthier," she said, "I kind of enjoyed that."

"Always a good thing," he answered with a smile, also getting up. "I've rather enjoyed meeting you, if you don't mind my saying."

"I wish there was a way I could repay you," she sighed, looking at the floor, "It's not like I have any money. If there's anything I could do for you at any time though…"

He moved a step closer. "If you really want to repay me, then I suppose there is something I would rather like…"

"What's that?" She turned to look up at him and felt her heart flutter slightly; he was ever so handsome, especially when he smiled like that.

"Hold still a moment," he said, before moving closer still, softly gripping her shoulders and pressing his lips against hers. Initially it shocked her too much for her to react before he pulled away, but then she placed a hand on the back of his head and pushed him back down so she could feel his tender kiss once more and so she could return it.

They broke apart. He smirked slightly.

"It's been a pleasure doing business with you," he commented, "Although I should return to my navigator now. She's not the most agreeable person at the best of times. Doubtless to say my late arrival will cause her to be a shade more irritable than usual."

"I thought you said she'd be fine with it!"

Balthier chuckled as he walked towards the exit. "I'm a sky pirate, my dear," he purred, "You'd do better not to trust me."

"I just put my life in your hands!"

"And I'm glad you did." He opened the airship door, waiting for the steps to appear before descending. "I suppose you'll be running off back to the shop now, will you?"

"I shouldn't keep Migelo waiting any longer than he has to," she replied, also descending from the airship.

"It's rather a shame we don't have time for a drink," he said, "Still, perhaps our paths will cross again."

"Maybe," she said, running ahead of him. She paused and turned as she ran to the light outside the aerodrome. "Until then, Balthier!" She called.

With that and a quick wave, she darted out and back towards Migelo's, goods in her arms. It wasn't long before she ran, quite literally, into Vaan.

"Ouch, Vaan!" She snapped. "Watch where you're going!"

"Penelo!" He cried, embracing her. "Migelo told me he sent you out to the Estersand. I was worried! I thought you might get killed! I was going to follow you, to make sure you were safe-"

"Vaan, I can look after myself," she sighed, smiling, "I got everything Migelo needs." She handed the bag full of goods to Vaan, which he took, a look of astonishment across his face.

"But… it must have taken you hours to get there and back," he commented, frowning. "How did you get all this so fast?"

"Oh… I got a lift from a sky pirate," she said casually.

"What? No way!"

She nodded excitedly, laughing at the look of pure shock and disbelief on her best friend's face.

"Tell me more," he demanded, hurrying to catch up with her and falling in step beside her. "I want to know everything."

Penelo smiled to herself, before grinning at Vaan and beginning her story.