One of those nagging things that I was nevertheless quite enthusiastic about. Enjoy.

Oh, and I NEED reviews! This is only my second story, and I want to know what you think, you lazy bums! :)


Awkward Silences

Come evening, when out party of six is though fighting for the day, and once they've pitched camp—neat and sparing, as Basch is wont to be—and after dinner, cooked by those who know how (which does not include the esteemed Lady Ashe), there is a time between then and sleep that would normally be filled by conversation.

It is then that our intrepid heroes are forced to face the fact that they have next to nothing in common. Because, for all of the things they are—sky pirates, soldiers, pickpockets and princesses—Balthier seems to have forgotten his Lessons in Polite Conversation as he stares vacantly into the fire; Basch and Ashe realize that something was lost between them, and it cannot be regained in awkward silence; Vaan and Penelo learn something they have always known: that theirs is a relationship of unspoken things, and Fran is not about to break the peace.

And it is in this painful hour that Penelo devises a solution one night, while she brushes out her sunny yellow hair. The light has just departed from the rouge-colored emptiness of the horizon, and Basch just cleared his throat for the seventh time in as many minutes. She takes her brush, and the impractical silk ribbons that tie off her pigtails, and sits decisively down in front of the knight, who is, not unexpectedly, quite taken aback.

But Penelo is patient, and Basch is willing, and they provide the night's entertainment as a sixteen-year-old girl teaches a middle-aged man the art of styling hair.

By the time they are ready for bed, Basch has somehow managed a pair of crooked, asymmetric braids that still exude an enormous amount of charm, considering who was behind their creation. Penelo declares to all that she will proudly sleep in them, and she does.

It comes as no surprise then, when on the following night, they repeat the exercise, with marginally better results. The braiding continues every evening, breaking the uncomfortable habit of silence, until Basch Fon Ronsenburg, Knight of the Order of Dalmasca, is an expert in the ways of making pigtails.

x

Upon their arrival in Jahara, and when Ashe has received the unhappy report of the Dawn Shard's impotence, Penelo realizes she never graced Vossler with her ribbons, and by way of apology, she settles herself before her troubled queen, who is almost visibly moved to tears by the gesture. She needs no instruction after years of playing with her own precious dollies, and she devotes her hands to the task with grim determination, and in utter silence.

Ashe's braids are so tight they make Penelo's eyes water, but she says nothing, and when she hears someone crying in her sleep later, she is very glad she didn't.

x

Several nights later, they reach Eruyt, and Penelo decides Fran is more in need of the favor, rather than desperate Ashe, who would continue pulling out the girl's poor hair until she was bald. Fran is quiet yet methodical, and appreciative of the way Penelo seems to know that her worry for Mjrn requires more than mental reproach.

The first night Penelo leans against the viera's shins, her long fingers turn Penelo's customary pigtails into an exotic, flowering weave that she has to ask Fran to undo in the morning. The designs grow progressively more elaborate until Mjrn is rescued, and she deconstructs her sister's fantastic knots with excruciating care. Penelo is confused when Mjrn apologizes for this, but it is a long while before they meet again, and Jote has to explain why in a stiff voice when Fran is not present.

x

Penelo is there for Larsa at Mt. Bur-Omisace when it is relayed to him that his father is dead, but he doesn't want her sympathy, and so she seeks out Balthier instead. He reveals shamelessly that he, too, has never learned to braid. She shows him how with her ribbons, and he catches on quickly. When they sleep that night, Penelo's hair is elegantly tied back in perfect bows, and she is wrapped around his finger all the way to Archades.

But Balthier shrugs her off in Giruvegan to brood, and she is left with no one but Vaan, who has known how to do her hair since she taught him when they were seven. It is nice to have a somewhat stable figure, what with all the chaos that comes with saving the world, one she can count on to always be around to braid. They spend their evenings together until she has a new student in inept old Reddas, and Vaan pretends he isn't as disappointed as he seems.

x

There comes a time, then, that Penelo's semblance of normalcy begins to fall apart. Reddas is the worst yet in this endeavour, and it was her pleasure at the end of day of perpetual stairs to clear her head with a welcome respite of foolishness, a chance to be herself. They all know she need not do it anymore, but it is less for the others now than for her. She needs it for precisely the same reason as Ashe needs her stubbornness and Balthier needs his affectations: it is all that is holding her together now.

The night after Reddas and Cid die, Penelo braids her own hair for the first time since the Sandseas. She redoes it three times, wishing for Basch or Fran or Vaan. She screams into her pillow, and she cries herself to sleep.

x

The last time Penelo sees Balthier, he says goodbye by sitting her down and combing through her hair. She is thoroughly disturbed by his profound lack of arrogance or flirtatiousness. He kisses the top of her head, "For luck," and she nearly cries. She leaves his braids untouched for many days after she hears the news.

x

Now that Penelo is a sky pirate, she works nights, and leaves her hair loose much of the time. But whenever she sees Basch, day or night, they sit together and reminisce, as he ties her hair into pigtails she wore when she was sixteen.

It is rare now that they have nothing to talk about.