TITLE | The Absence Of Colour
FANDOM | Final Fantasy XII.
WORD COUNT | 2,941.
PAIRINGS | Balthier/Penelo, Ashe/Vaan.
NOTES | I love these two pairings so hard. Also, standard disclaimer applies.
SUMMARY | In which Balthier & Ashe are painfully obvious. Or, alternatively: Ashe's skirt versus Balthier's leather pants!

Fran knew the two of them becoming sky pirates was going to lead to disaster, had known it from the moment Vaan had nearly sent the Galbana spiralling into a mountain on the way to the sky city in a fit of excitement. Penelo, nineteen now, had pummelled him. Vaan had yelped. She'd sighed, and Balthier, in typical fashion, had stared at the smooth expanse of skin a now decidedly more womanly Penelo was displaying for all to see.

"Imminent destruction," she muttered to herself. Bathier stopped cleaning his gun and looked up at her.

"Did you say something, love?"

Vaan ran past, yelling loudly and shielding his head – he was almost nineteen yet his voice still cracked every other word. Her ears curled in dismay. Penelo chased him, obviously angry and wielding a rather sharp looking knife.

Balthier smirked and glanced at them, his gaze quite obviously lingering on a set of hips. "Ah, to be young again."

She looked at him, then at Penelo, then back at him pointedly. "Filthy old man," she deadpanned, and retreated to her room, leaving him to splutter behind her.

In the weeks following the reunion with the rest of their old group, Basch noted two things: one, the princess was still parading around in a belt, and two, she seemed to be making eyes at Vaan of all people. No one else had noticed, of course – this left him to disguise his shock and the ensuing conniption fit when he'd realized where his princess' affections laid with a bout of coughing.

Fran gave him a knowing look and murmured, "Lovesick fools," when she passed him. He frowned at the plural, gazed around, and nearly impaled Balthier with his sword.

"Darling, you're going to blow something important off." He stared at the top of the blonde in question's head. She fiddled with his gun, biting her lip. "Here, let me help."

Penelo didn't blush when his arms slipped around her and covered hers. Instead, she rolled her eyes. Basch swelled with pride. Vaan laughed. Ashe snarled at them, and Basch knew her concern for Penelo's heart was far greater than any of them could understand.

"Keep your hands where I can see them, sky pirate," she growled, "or you will find yourself being stabbed in the most unfortunate of places."

Vaan looked torn between laughing more and defending his mentor. He settled for, "I'm pretty sure Balthier's been stabbed in the hand before."

Basch was once again floored by the boy's awe inspiring genius and his blaring worth as the princess' companion. Ashe punched him lightly without looking at him and muttered something under her breath.

Balthier smirked and seemed to hold Penelo just a bit tighter. "Whatever are you talking about, Princess?"

Penelo, for the most part, looked disturbingly unfazed by the whole thing. "Ashe, I really appreciate your concern, but I can handle myself you know. I am holding a gun, after all."

"Sweetheart, you don't even know how to hold it properly."

She snorted, gave the gun an elaborate twirl around her finger, pulled back the safety, and very calmly shot an empty can off the shelf above Basch's head. Balthier blinked hard. "I was staring at the design on the side. You just assumed I was trying to hold it."

Balthier coughed, but didn't step back. "Well, then."

"But thanks for trying to help." She smiled sweetly at him, and then danced away. "Vaan could use more target practice than me, though."

Vaan squawked, but Ashe perked up a bit. It wasn't anything really, but Basch had spent enough time trying to protect her to know when her eyes brightened slightly, and her lips twitched. Balthier was still openly gaping after Penelo. Basch watched, amused.

Penelo was clearly oblivious to the sky pirate's affections. He could only hope Vaan would not be the same towards Ashe, or things were bound to get ugly.

"I do not need practice!"

Ashe smiled delicately, but there was none of her usual condescension. "You protest too much, Vaan. Regardless, I'd be willing to show you a few things, if you'd like."

Vaan flailed a bit. "I don't need practice! And you use a bow and arrow – what do you know about gun slinging?"

Ashe frowned. "Quite a bit, actually. I was without a weapon for some time in the sewers, and many of the guards seemed to carry a pistol as a second defence."

"That's cool," Vaan said absently, "but Balthier would still be a better teacher."

Ashe twitched violently. Balthier sneered. Basch sighed.

Ugly, it was.

The Sandsea was busier than usual – it might've had something to do with Penelo dancing on the stage, twisting and twirling with a grace no one in the room save for maybe Fran possessed. Tomaj ran back and forth behind the bar, pouring shots. The rest of the group, minus Vaan and Kytes, sat at one of the corner tables.

"Watching you fail so frequently," Fran said. "It is painful."

Balthier glared at Tomaj who, like the rest of the bar, seemed to be making eyes at Penelo. "Charming a woman has never been this difficult."

"Perhaps it is because she is not a woman, then," Ashe spat, before downing her drink. It seemed Vaan being led away by that pretty bar maid to dance wasn't as fine as she'd claimed it to be. "She's still a child, you fiend."

"I could say the same to you about Vaan," Balthier returned. He didn't sound angry. "How do you manage to keep conversation with someone who isn't a sixty year old diplomat?"

"Easily," Ashe muttered. Her voice fell. "I do all the talking."

"Dropped too many times, he was," Fran said dryly. Her mug was still half full. Basch ignored them and quietly watched Penelo dance, a touch of a smile on his lips. "Do not tell me you wish to rob a cradle too, Basch?"

He looked back at them. "I am not Balthier," he said flatly. "I wish to keep her safe, not in my bed."

Fran smirked at him. Balthier looked understandably put out. "Fran, you're supposed to be on my side, remember?"

"Your side is going to end up in prison one of these days, and not necessarily for pirating," Ashe snapped, and threw back the rest of Basch's drink for him. Fran was barely hiding a smile behind her hand. Basch sighed and wondered how angry the Princess would be drunk.

"Well then I suppose I'll be seeing you there, then, won't I?" Balthier's eyes drifted to the front, where Vaan was awkwardly spinning with another girl. "Assuming he even notices you."

Filo, who'd been oddly silent up until then, went, "Um, newsflash hot sky pirate guy: Penelo doesn't notice you either."

Ashe appeared to have suddenly been overcome with the urge to adopt this girl. Fran seemed to be having similar, more cryptic, thoughts. Balthier scoffed. "That is simply because I haven't been using my charms to their full potential."

"Or because she thinks you're a total man whore," Filo deadpanned. Basch made a mental note to tell Larsa they needed to buy the biggest castle in Archades and give it to her. "Vaan's just stupid – he could be in love the Her Majesty and not realize it until someone beat it into him with a stick. Penelo knows better than to get mixed up with a guy like you, no matter how sexy you are."

"All these backhanded compliments are rather damaging to my ego," Balthier drawled.

"Perhaps I should begin to use them, then," Fran mused. Balthier sulked.

Ashe looked at Filo, curious. "How would I go about...gaining Vaan's attentions?"

"Oh, that's easy," Filo said flippantly, waving her hand and stealing Balthier's drink. He sent her a withering look. "Just chop another three inches off your skirt and stop wearing that cape so he'll have more to stare at. He'll get it eventually."

"I should have known," Ashe despaired. Basch looked at the thing she dared to call a skirt and did the same.

Penelo felt a sudden chill crawl up her spine as she stood near the bar, retying her braids. She paused mid-twist and turned very, very slowly on her heels, half expecting to see Vayne Solidor's resurrected corpse hanging out in a corner with a pint.

Instead, she saw empty tables and Filo hovering near the door, probably waiting for everyone with Kytes. She smiled almost apologetically at Penelo when she caught her eye, and Penelo could only begin to guess why.

It was probably because Ashe was suddenly wearing a fuchsia napkin and parading past Vaan as much as she could. Or because Balthier's leather pants seemed three times tighter than they'd been an hour before. Or because Basch looked very pained, and Fran's ears were sticking straight up.

Vaan was purple. Penelo didn't even want to know what he was thinking, but it probably had something to do with all the thigh Ashe was showing off. She took a moment to admire the Princess' boldness, and wondered if she'd tell her where she got her boots.

Tomaj came up next to her and grinned. "Nice job, Penelo. I don't think the bar's ever been so packed."

She smiled up at him. At least this was relatively mundane. "It was no problem. We're staying here for a few days, so I can come back again tomorrow if you'd like."

He nodded, and his fingers brushed her bare hip, and suddenly everything was not okay. "I'd like that."

Oh, sands, she thought. At least he's cute.

Balthier, of course, chose then to clear his throat and purposely strut towards her in his obscene pants. She gawked. "Wonderful performance, love. We best be going, though – Fran says you need a new bow and everything closes in an hour."

"Did you paint those on?" she blurted out, gesturing wildly. His face fell. Fran's shoulders shook ever so slightly behind him. Tomaj had to grab the counter to keep from falling over. "...I mean."

"I fear I'm no good at laundry," he said lamely. Penelo almost started hyperventilating. Fran and Tomaj remained incapacitated – or as close to incapacitated as Fran could get. "Shall we be going?"

"I don't know if those will let you go anywhere."

"They got me over here, did they not?"

"I'm pretty sure Fran carried you."

"Would not touch him," Fran said airily. It was probably her version of a wheeze.

"Not in those pants," Tomaj choked out.

"I suddenly feel extremely bloody sure that I loathe all of you," Balthier grumbled and shifted his weight. The leather squeaked.

"Your pants agree," Penelo said, and doubled over.

"I hate you so much," Vaan said to the Zu flying towards them. It slammed into the top of the ship out of spite and plummeted away. The Galbana soared over the Phon Coast, marginally lopsided, and Penelo turned to stare out the window. Balthier watched her eyes light up from his seat near the rear and groaned.

"Fran, dearest, help me."

"I cannot make your pants any tighter," she said, and went back to readjusting her arm guards. Ashe sat up front next to Vaan, and purposely crossed her legs when he made an offhanded comment about her distinct lack of clothing. The ship veered drastically to the left before righting itself.

"Are you trying to get us killed, Princess?" Balthier snapped, gripping his seat. Ashe turned and smirked at him.

"Whatever do you mean, Balthier?" she mocked, eyes sharp and smug. "Vaan's the one piloting."

"Sorry!" he squeaked. Balthier could see his white knuckles on the steering column.

"She will gloat," Fran mused. "Perhaps you should choose an easier target."

"She's not—" he paused, scowled at his cuffs. "It's Penelo, Fran."

"Ah," she said. "So you do know the difference."

"There is a slight possibility I have known it for some time," he grumbled, sliding a hand through his hair. Fran sighed quietly and gave him one of her patronizing looks that really meant she cared.

"We dock in Balfonheim soon," she went, ears flicking back and forth. "She has not seen the parade, has she?"

Balthier smirked, slow and feral. "No, she has not."

"Balthier, where are your pants taking me?"

"Oh, for the love of –" He spun to face her, clearly disgruntled. She beamed at him, knowing full well he'd never get truly angry at her. He tugged at the end of her braid in annoyance and turned back. The grip he had on her wrist was gentler than she'd expected from him. "Are they really so horrible?"

"No," she went honestly. "I just like making fun of them so you don't realize how much I actually appreciate the view."

Balthier toppled over nothing. Penelo giggled and jogged ahead so now she was pulling him, even though she had no idea where they were actually going. "Sorry; couldn't help myself."

"So I assumed," he drawled. His voice was a lot closer than she thought he'd be, and when she turned, her nose bumped his chest. "Problem, Penelo?"

"...I'm just waiting for your pants to try and trip me," she admitted. Balthier huffed and stomped ahead. She laughed girlishly behind him. "Don't be offended! They aren't...that bad."

"Comforting," he said flatly. She sighed.

"If it's any consolation, I'll do your laundry next time."

"Really?" He glanced at her, looking oddly hopeful. She swallowed. Her tongue felt dry.

"Yeah. But if I find one pair of creepy fetish underwear, I swear, I will strangle you with them."

"I think it would be quite difficult to do that given Fran's choice in undergarments."

Penelo choked. "I didn't know you had such a taking to metal."

He stumbled, this time. "No, I merely meant—"

"That you enjoy pretending to be a Viera superwoman," Penelo said offhandedly. She didn't know why, but the idea of finding Fran's underwear amongst Balthier's laundry made her want to laugh and cry at the same time. "I get it, don't worry. I accept you, Balthier."

"I believe my pants just insinuated that they hate you."

"Nonsense," she chirped, and patted his hand. "They said they hope you don't plan on wearing them when you have Fran's thong on."

"I refuse to dignify that with a response."

She smiled, and knew he could feel it. His fingers were warm and rough, and maybe she really did like his pants, just a little bit. She lengthened her strides to catch up to him, and realized that if he slid his palm a fraction lower, they'd be holding hands. "So, really, where are we going?"

"You'll see," he said. The corner of his mouth kicked up when she pouted. "That is a very unbecoming look on you."

"Your face is unbecoming," she grumbled. Balthier quirked an eyebrow at her. She looked away and felt thoroughly mature. "It is."

"You wound me." He sounded like he was trying really hard not to snort. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, one hand over his heart, eyes wide, and dissolved into giggles. "Ah, there we go. Much better."

"You are so-" They turned the corner, and past the bars lining the street, a parade of costumes and colour went by. Penelo gasped. "-lame."

His fingers slipped from her wrist and curled around her lovely hips instead. "Come now, darling," he drawled, guiding her through the crowd. "I'd like to think you can come up with better insults than that."

She didn't say anything, just stared up at him with her wide, grey eyes and a pretty smile tilting her lips, and something in his expression made her think that in some way, he'd won.

That evening went something like this:

"She offered to do my laundry." Balthier leaned back in his chair and smirked. Ashe and Fran fixed him with bored looks over their mugs. Tomaj looked a little green and downed the rest of his ale. It was Basch who spoke.

"By the Gods," he said flatly, setting down his glass, "it must be love."

Balthier, understandably, moped.