A Safe Place
Ashe cannot accompany him to sell her belongings to the pawn shops in Barius and the surrounding areas. Since they are so close to Mt. Bur Omisace, people from all walks of life and history have come here to hide, so the shop owners do not ask many questions. Still, she cannot bear to go with him – to see the artifacts of her life sold for what they will start on – so she stays in the inn that day, left to cry and sleep in solitude.
When Basch returns that night, they are wealthy. It will not last long, she knows, since they must find a permanent place to live and all the things they will need to settle, as their exile will be long.
Ashe feels guilty for the gratitude she feels – she is happy, in part, that she will have this time with Basch and this time alone to heal. She feels as if she should be doing something – beating against the Archadian cage made for Dalmasca – but after Rasler destroyed her self-worth, after her father would not listen, and after they both died and left her with no resolution… she looks forward to the quiet.
"I may have found us a place to stay," Basch says quietly after greeting her. He sits down on the edge of the bed, knowing she has barely moved all day, and brushes her hair back from her face. It is limp now, and she is in need of a bath. He doubts, however, that he could ever convince her to go down to the town's bathhouse. She is not accustomed to such things.
"There is a farm on the edge of town. The woman's husband died last week and she wishes to sell it – all of it, the animals included. We have enough. The jewels brought us enough to have plenty left over."
"I don't want to hear of it." She turns over beneath the blankets, leaving him her back. "Do what you think is best."
Basch sighs. He knows she is hurt and angry with the world, but he selfishly wants his princess back – the girl he'd hoped would somehow embrace this adventure – that would embrace him. He wanted the girl who'd kissed him in the wake of a disaster.
But that, he expects, would be too much to ask of life.
In the morning, Ashe wakes and cringes at her state. She sits up, runs her fingers through her hair and feels the oil, touches her skin and feels it flake beneath her fingers. A day of sloth and grief, it seems, was more than her body could take.
She sighs and looks to Basch, sleeping in the armchair. She cannot see how he could be comfortable contorted at such odd angles, and she mentally kicks herself for letting him sleep there and for not insisting he lay beside her. It likely would have comforted him as much as it did her.
But she was frightened last night. The invitation would be easier to make in the daylight.
She says his name quietly as she crawls to his side of the bed – massive, albeit uncomfortable – and tugs at his hand. He jerks awake, his eyes wide and searching as he focuses and realizes where he is. She sees him cringe as he looks around, no doubt from a stiff neck and back, and she feels even worse.
"Come here. Get in the bed."
"I am fine. You said –"
"And now I'm saying –"
He doesn't need to be told twice. Basch slides easily from his chair into the mattress, and Ashe holds the covers up for him, letting him slip beneath. She feels him sidle toward her, feels his arms close around her waist and watches as he rests his head down on the pillow, almost instantly asleep.
Ashe sighs. She is awake now, with him beside her and she cannot move without waking him. She looks down at him – at the peace on his face, and she knows she cannot wake him. She does not have the heart. Instead of trying to maneuver herself free, she just turns to face him and slides down, resting her head beside his and watches him sleep, as he has watched her so many times before.
"I'll keep you safe too."
When Basch wakes a few hours later, he decides they should go visit the widow. Ashe protests – tells him that she wants to say at the inn again, and that he'd be more effective alone, being a handsome and convincing young man, but he only laughs and tells her he is not young enough to be so effective on his own. He hands her clean clothes, draws a towel from a bag, and takes her hand.
"Where are we going?" She follows him through the town towards the forest, her hand holding his tight. "Is this the way?"
"No. You need to wash up and I won't take you to the town bathhouse. You would not like it. There is a river down here. I will guard the area."
"I can brave the bathhouse, princess. I've been doing it for years."
"There's one in Rabanastre?"
He laughs at her ignorance – at her innocence. If only she knew the things that happened there at night…
He wonders if she was even aware of the rampant prostitution in her city, or that the sale of sexual favors had been made legal by her grandfather so he could tax it.
"Yes, princess. Not all of us could afford running water."
She furrows her brow a bit as they walk, holding Basch's hand tighter as they enter the forest. Panic starts to settle into her body. They are alone, far from people, and no one would hear her scream if he were to…
This is Basch, she tells herself. You needn't worry. He would never harm you.
Though her mind is calm, her body is not, and there is little she can do about it.
The river is deep in the forest, running slow and steady through the earth. Basch promises that it is not deep – tells her that it is this same river that runs through the property he wishes them to live on, and he tries to put her at ease as when he turns his back to her to let her undress and wash by telling her how the animals graze in the fields, and how they walk down to that river to drink.
"It is a beautiful place," he tells her. "I walked down to it yesterday to see. The grass is green and healthy, and there is a tall tree in the field that you could read under."
As Ashe steps into the cool water, she is taken aback by how Basch tries to set her at ease. It is now how he tries, but how he succeeds – he knows what she will care about and how she will feel, and it is then that she begins to wonder how he is truly taking all of this.
"Do you miss it?"
"Landis? I understand now how you must have felt… fleeing your homeland after it was conquered… after it was beyond your power to save it."
She had not considered this newfound similarity until she'd spoken, but as she the water laps at her waist and she begins to wash, she realizes she has more in common with Basch now than she ever has.
Such a pity this common ground cost the kingdom.
"I do miss my home," he admits. He listens to her move in the water and grimaces against his want to turn and look at her. "But Dalmasca is all I care for now. I know Landis can never be recovered to the state it once was."
"If somehow we regain an army and restore Dalmasca with more strength, we will take Landis back."
Basch chuckles. She is so young – so willing to do anything to make someone happy that she does not weigh the cost of what she speaks. "I would not have you start a war for me. The Archadians treat Landis well. The people thrive."
"You sound like a prince speaking of his kingdom." Ashe leans back into the water and allows it to soak through her hair, washing away all that does not belong to her.
"It was my forefathers who established Landis." Have they not spoken of this before? He knows they have never spoken of Noah – but she needn't know his brother stands as a Judge.
"Why have you never told me?"
"I suppose it has never come up, princess," he says, folding his hands behind his back. "My grandfather established a democracy and left rule to the people. Have you never wondered why I bear the capitol city's name as my surname?"
Ashe pauses. She had never put the two together. "I never really…"
He laughs a bit, and she watches as he shifts from side to side, clearly uncomfortable. As they have spoken she has calmed, and as she watches the sunlight dance over his hair – she has always loved his hair – she feels nearly comfortable.
"Noticed. It is okay, princess."
They fall into silence, and she takes a few moments to just enjoy the water – to duck down beneath the surface and feel it all around her – to imagine it washing away Rasler's fingerprints and the tears she'd shed for her father and kingdom. When she emerges and takes a breath, she feels more clean than she ever has in her life.
She dries off, ruffling her hair and dressing as quickly as possible. When she begins to gather things up, she tells Basch he can turn around.
"I've always found there was something special about bathing outdoors. It's liberating."
He looks at her – sees how her damp hair curls around her face without a brush or styling products to deter it – notes how fresh her face looks, and he is stunned by how beautiful she is. As he looks at her, he tries to memorize her – each line of her face and each freckle, and he tries to force back his feelings for her, knowing he cannot be more than a friend now – nothing more than a faithful knight.
But even now, her kiss lingers on his lips and in his memory, and he wants her so.
It isn't until she looks away from him that he realizes he has been staring at her, and he clears his throat to break the silence.
"Should we go to the farm?"
"Yes… the farm."
Basch feels a sense of pride when he sees Ashe's awe at the beautiful land that surrounds the farm. He watches as her gaze wanders across the hills – sees her smile as she watches the cockatrices, chocobos and sheep graze the fields.
"This is where you would have us stay?"
"For the time being. As soon as a resistance gathers, this will be an excellent place to operate from. It is far enough from the city to remain unnoticed, but close enough to gather news and supplies. We have time before that, though. Plenty of time to try and gather our thoughts."
Gather yourself, he thinks. He knows how she thrashes at night – how poorly she sleeps and how she whimpers for comfort. He knows his own exhaustion, as he has stayed awake these nights to hold her hand and whisper to her in the vain hope that she would hear him on some level and know he was near – that he would let no one touch her now.
He doubts his sentiments would reassure her. It was, in part, his fault that this had all happened. He had not saved her from Rasler. He had not saved her nation. He had not even gone to save her father – not even tried at her request.
Vossler would have me killed for this, he thinks. But I hope he would be taking the same steps I take now.
He always was the better knight. He did not let himself fall in love with her as I did.
But I was never given a choice.
"It is beautiful enough that I can scarcely imagine Rabanastre and the desert," she whispers, her voice guilt ridden. "This region… it reminds me of Landis."
"It reminds me of my homeland as well," Basch agrees. He wraps a comforting arm around her shoulder as they begin to walk down to the cottage.
"You do know how to farm?"
Basch chuckles, and Ashe smiles feebly at the sound. He does not laugh enough – his mouth bears no signs of age yet, and she would rather see laugh lines than smooth skin.
"My family owned the largest farm in Landis. It was the only remnant of the Ronsenberg clan's former power and affluence."
"When did you become a soldier?"
"I was sixteen. I was very eager."
"I cannot imagine you at sixteen," she says. "But then again, I cannot reconcile that you are as old as you say you are. It is as if you have always been the same to me – mature and sturdy. A safe place."
Basch holds her a bit tighter as they cross the field, closing his eyes for a second to enjoy the breeze as it dances across his skin. "I would be nothing else for you, my princess."
Author's Note: Okay, so it took me forever to write this. I'm stealing just bits of time here and there to write and it's just about killing my creativity drive. I'm usually halfway through the next chapter by the time I post one, but I've got nothing of chapter five written. I only know what happens in it, and it likely involves sex. Oh, good. I have your attention.