Entitled: The Long Way
Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Length: 2,400 words
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy XII.
Notes: Cait's Penelo/Balthier is (still) really, really late. So, she gets more Penelo fic! Good solution. I am such an ace problem solver.
Summary: In which the hero is, at the very least, rich. And a proper woman knows the benefits of financial security. Or so he hopes. — TomajPenelo
"Why did you have to rescue me?"
Vaan heaved Tomaj to his feet, scuffed the heel of his palm against Tomaj's cheek, and glared even as he inspected the other boy for injury. Apparently satisfied, he spat at the giant rat carcass.
"'cause you were crying too loud for me to sleep through it."
Tomaj gave a great, scathing snort by means of reply.
"Vaan?" probed a girl's voice, and Tomaj stiffened imperceptibly even as Vaan turned to call back.
"It's fine! Tomaj just got a little spooked by some mice!"
Tomaj snapped a hand across the back of Vaan's head, but was quick enough to turn the gesture into an elaborate flourish. He bowed ridiculously low as Penelo came round the corner, a bag of groceries bumping against her hip.
"Hark! It is the night's first star, that guiding light between two worlds, watcher of thieves and princes alike!"
"You're covered in blood," Penelo noted with some concern. She stepped closer to examine him. Tomaj relished the moment until Vaan, by intention or not, utterly ruined it.
"Aw, he's fine. It was just a dire rat." Vaan gave Tomaj's shoulder a hard slap, "Shall I escort this delicate one home?"
Penelo casually kicked Vaan in the knee, and fixed Tomaj a moment longer with her sympathetic half-smile. "I hate 'em too. I've got to run this up to Migelo, but I'll see you two later." She'd already started backing towards the stairs that led up from Lowtown, back into the proper city, "Stay out of trouble!"
The pair of them watched her go in silence, until Vaan noticed Tomaj's stunned expression and found in necessary to roll his eyes in the most obvious way possible.
"Hey, you'd better not."
"Vaan," Tomaj glanced over and slightly down, "I'm going to marry her."
"No." Vaan corrected politely. "You can't. You already said you'd marry Reska and Yvonne and that girl from last week with the buns."
Tomaj was distracted. "Who?"
"I don't know. She stole your shirt."
"Oh! Her." Tomaj thought a moment, "Yeah, she's alright, I guess. But, you know?" his grin flashed like a knife in the dusk, "Wouldn't kill rats for me."
Vaan, who was comfortable believing that Tomaj had the attention span of a non-sentient shellfish, did not take this epic proclamation of love to heart.
The non-sentient shellfish theory was deteriorating.
Penelo, despite her naturally honest and plucky nature, was polite enough not to question Tomaj's new interest in her. The same could not be said of everybody else in Dalmasca.
"Again!" Filo shrieked after Tomaj popped his head into the room shared by the female half of Vaan's gang. She eyed the clump of wildflowers he was clutching with undisguised exasperation. "We haven't got anywhere else to put them!"
Tomaj ignored this. What Penelo did with the flowers he gave her was not especially important. What mattered was that he was expressing an interest, along with demonstrating commitment and proving his assets. Which were admittedly limited. But so were most people's, these days.
Tomaj walked into the room at the exact moment Vaan chose to rip the head off of a chicken. A dead one, mind, but still.
Tomaj squawked and danced backwards. Vaan shot him a casually malicious stare, and tossed the carcass across the table to the girl opposite him. Penelo gutted the bird with grim efficiency.
Tomaj watched with horror.
Vaan smiled. "You joining us for dinner?"
"What?" Penelo turned her head, noticing Tomaj for the first time. Her face lit up, "Oh, hey! Come in!"
"Er." Tomaj flinched back, feeling queasy. "Can't. I just remembered. I have to go and...lift weights."
Vaan snickered unkindly.
"Want me to sit on your back while you do some push-ups?" Penelo offered, eyes flicking to the door and then back to him, "I do it for Vaan all the time."
"Sit on my back!" Tomaj gaped, "Have you ever tried lifting—I don't know, two hundred and fifty pounds?—with your arms?"
"I do fifty each day," Vaan chimed in, most helpfully. Tomaj quietly loathed him.
"You do like ten," Penelo rolled her eyes.
"This is your plan?"
Tomaj scowled, folded his arms defensively. "It's steady wages. Better than killing the odd rat for Migelo."
"You are terrified of those rats," Vaan reminded him nastily, eyeing the Sandsea's bar for a moment, and then turning back. "Girl over there wants her order taken."
Tomaj turned smartly, but was held back as Vaan grabbed his elbow, "Alright?"
"You're going to go over there," Vaan pointed at the girl by the bar, "And flirt with her. Got me?"
Tomaj raised his eyebrows. Vaan shrugged.
"I'm serious," Tomaj lowered his voice, "I know you don't think I am, and I'm aware that you could kick my ass no problem. But I would just like to point out to you that I? Am a rich and slightly-older man. And women are practical. So. Ha."
Vaan glared, "Penelo could kick your ass no problem too, you know."
"Idiot, the reason I'm marrying her is so she'll protect me!" Tomaj hissed, and began stalking away, "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go flirt with that girl over there."
Five weeks later Tomaj had nearly fought his way out of Lowtown, and Penelo had gotten herself kidnapped because of some jerk-sky pirate—or so Vaan told him.
Tomaj meant to go over to the jerk sky pirate's table and give the guy a piece of his mind, but was unfortunately distracted by—
Look, in his defense, there weren't many Viera in Dalmasca.
"Another pint, if you please," the jerk sky pirate ordered lazily, after Tomaj had wasted a good five minutes hovering around their table, stealing covert glances. He jumped, and the man's mouth slanted upwards mockingly, before his attentions returned to his Viera partner and the big man sitting beside her. Their heads bent together in conference.
Tomaj grimaced. He thought he glimpsed Vaan doing the same.
In the next hour, the pirate, Viera, big man and Vaan had all begun edging towards the door. Tomaj flew to their side.
"Hey, you're going after Penelo, right? You're rescuing her?"
"What do you think?" Vaan growled. Tomaj caught the shorter boy's arm.
"You'd better not leave without me. Seriously. I'll kick your ass. I don't quite know how I'll manage to, but it'll come to be eventually. Anyway. My shift's off in an hour."
"Fine," Vaan barked, and ran after the rest of his party.
Needless to say, they'd left without him.
A long week passed.
"Got a minute?"
Tomaj almost dropped his tray.
He spun around to face her, and Penelo grinned at him. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to hug her, or burst into tears.
"I wanted to come too. They left me behind," he blurted out. Penelo shrugged, looking calm. She glanced around the bar and he offered her an open seat at one of the tables, which she declined.
"That's alright. I'm only back for the day."
"What d'you mean?"
"We're restocking," she hesitated, "Well, I'm supposed to be. But I wanted to go around and tell everyone I was alright. You know."
"Yeah," the clamor of his customers seemed so insignificant, he didn't even need to ignore them. "D'you have to go?"
She glanced at him, looking almost pleased, "I've got to look after Vaan?"
"What about me?"
"You'll be fine," she laughed, and eased off the wall, taking a half-step towards him, "You're more dependable."
Tomaj smiled. He couldn't help himself. "Of course I am."
She nodded, hesitated for a moment, and then swung her momentum away from him, moving towards the door. "I should go. You're the first person I came to see, you know. There'll be loads more before I can leave."
"Okay," Tomaj agreed dreamily. First person indeed!
Penelo wasn't the only to stop in that afternoon.
"Tomaj," Vaan pointed demandingly at the open stool beside him, and Tomaj perched obediently, "You're doomed."
Tomaj frowned. "How so?"
"Because," Vaan seethed, "Penelo's got an imperial prince after her!"
Alarm poured through Tomaj's veins, "Then we've got to hide her!"
"Not like that, stupid! I mean, he wants her!"
Tomaj had a sudden, disturbing mental image of Vayne Solidor leering after poor, sweet Penelo. He blanched.
"...we've still got to hide her."
Vaan burped in what Tomaj supposed was agreement, and tipped back something potent.
"Besides!" Tomaj couldn't help but add, "She was just in here. I bet she likes me. She said I was dependable."
Vaan shot him the stink eye, "Larsa's got a hell of a lotta more money than you."
Tomaj was stunned.
The way he figured it, he had about four years to buy out an empire. Not that he was stressed or anything. Because, hello, totally doable.
Fran's ears twitched.
"I mean, I'm calm. Very calm. The situation is under control," he (calmly) babbled to her, the harsh prow-winds blasting through his hair and smarting his eyes. He took a long breath, "I mean, I own like...the stock market. Basically. Pretty much. Maybe half. But it's only been a year!" he dragged a hand back through his hair, and stared broodingly at Fran's very, very nice legs. Doing so almost always managed to cheer him up.
"Strange, the acts of humes," Fran murmured, and pranced away from him. Tomaj reflected that it hadn't been his most charming moment, what with all the angsting.
Encouraging Vaan's continued theft of Archadian property was probably cheating, but...well. It was all just sharing, wasn't it?
"Kytes is looking for you," Penelo said, and a moment later breeched his peripheral vision as she leaned back against the railing, nothing beyond that but air. Her arm just brushed his. Tomaj studied it intently. She had very nice arms, actually. Paler than his own, and graceful at the bend. But he'd known that already.
"Can I ask you something?"
"You know I like you, right?"
Penelo laughed. It was a happy sound. "Yeah, I know."
"Okay." Tomaj nodded, "Good."
She seemed to wait a moment—a very long one, in fact, but he was content to let it sit.
"Kytes," she prompted him, at last, and he started.
"Right. See you."
"Bye," she agreed, braced an arm on his shoulder, and put her lips against his cheek for a second before brushing past him.
Tomaj desperately longed for a rich old uncle.
At twenty two, Tomaj was perhaps half as wealthy as Larsa, and his time was almost out.
He thusly fell into despair.
"It's like, I mean, if I'd just had a bit longer, the interest rates would have compounded and I'd have made a fortune," Tomaj blew unhappy bubbles into his drink. Ashe's face flattened. "But now," he carried on, "Now the Emperling has grown up! It's done!" he laid his face against the table and sulked.
"Oh, for god's sake!" Ashe snapped, "If you care for her so much, why are you here with me?" she rose from her chair stiffly, treating him to her sharpest look, "The next time you wish to discuss your love life, don't hold my nation's economy as a hostage! Better yet, don't bother me at all!"
Tomaj watched her stomp out sadly. And then he had a thought. A brilliant thought. Perhaps—perhaps wealth wasn't his only virtue after all! He straightened with excitement, and rushed off to find Penelo before fully developing this novel new concept.
"Tomaj," Penelo set her hands on her hips as he finished his speech and favored him a bemused smile, "You know I wouldn't ever marry anyone just for money, right?"
"Sure," Tomaj put on his most winning smile, "But, I mean, just think of it as...as a bonus prize! A large bonus. Like, really big. And while I realize that some people have—better bonuses—I really think that—"
"Why else?" she interrupted him, a little testing edge to her smile, "Come on, Tomaj. Why else?"
His eyes rounded, and he bit his tongue. "Uh."
Her head tilted encouragingly.
"Because...I like you. All of you. More than anyone else. And you'd kill rats for me."
Penelo had to turn away briefly as she wheezed with laughter, "Always so charming," she mumbled, and stepped right up to him, toe-to-toe. "You know I like you, right?"
"Yeah," he grinned slowly.
She did the same.