Disclaimer: I do not own Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII, nor am I making any money off this fanfiction.


Penelo's fingers danced over the stone railing. It was cool to the touch from the chilly day, and above gray clouds scudded over the somber sky, just as bleak as the rest of the world. Leaves were barely clinging to their branches, just a few here and there, and Penelo focused on the brown things, her throat tight. Beside her, Larsa's gloved fingers came to rest over her own.

She drew a breath. "Don't." Her breath puffed free, clouded the air in a mist of white.

"Penelo…" He didn't move his hand. Of course he didn't. He'd never taken orders well, and why should he have? He was the Emperor of Archadia. He took orders from no one.

So she moved her hand—or, at least, she attempted to. Seconds later, he caught her fingers in his own, and he tugged on her, just a slight one. She knew he was trying to get her to look at him, but she wouldn't have any of it. She couldn't.

"I don't understand what's wrong," he said to her back.

"Nothing's wrong." Penelo blinked hard and watched an air cab go by in the distance. It was easier than facing him. Anything at that moment would be easier than gazing into those bright green eyes of his and knowing that no matter what she did or what she said, it wouldn't be enough. It would never be enough.

"Then why are we outside, going to catch our deaths, instead of inside, where it is warm, where—we were in the middle of having tea… You had even just remarked upon the fact that your cake was more delicious than the one they served at my birthday ceremony two months past." Larsa's voice was pleading, instilled with just the right notes that he knew would win her over to his side. It had been like this for four years now. Nothing had changed.

Until now.

Penelo straightened her shoulders, yanked free her hand. He let her go, but she heard the breath he took. He was ready to do battle. She wasn't having any of it.

"I've got to go," she said. The skyline was really something in this winter setting, that was for sure. Give it a few more days, and it'd probably snow. Archades would be pretty covered in white, she thought. It always was. Those were days filled with hot cocoa and chess by the fireplace, Larsa's head in her lap as she stroked his hair and murmured to him a story.

"Why? Penelo!"

She pushed from the balcony and walked back inside. Her footsteps clicked over the marble floor. It didn't matter what shoes one wore, their footsteps would always click. It was most likely a way to prevent intruders from sneaking up on someone, considering this was the imperial wing and Larsa's favorite sunroom.

Larsa's footsteps sounded after her. She passed the small table with their tea and the ensemble of pastries the chef had provided for them, because he loved Penelo's praise whenever she personally came into the kitchen to commend him on a job well done. She almost felt bad about that. Larsa was not a fan of chocolate, and most of the desserts had been designed specifically for Penelo, chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. It was why she had thought the cake tasted better now. Larsa's birthday one had been vanilla.

His footsteps stopped. She kept walking. She almost thought he was going to let her go, but then she reached the door and he bellowed after her.

"PENELO! Stop."

It was her turn to come to a halt. She knew an imperial order when she heard one. She closed her eyes and took another breath, deeper than the last had been. Her nerves were absolutely on end, and she could not spend another second in this room with him or she was going to go crazy. On the other hand, she couldn't disobey him. It made matters infinitely more complicated.

"Look at me."

She raised a hand. "Larsa, please—just let me go. I was going in the morning, anyway. You knew that."

"Look at me, Penelo."

Her teeth gritted, and her eyes burned something fierce. Her breath whistled through her teeth as she released it. Slowly, very slowly, so slowly she thought he might snap with impatience at any moment, she revolved on the spot. Her eyes met the blood red marble beneath her feet… lifted… lifted…

His jaw was trembling, and he stood so tall, just as he had for the past year. He was close to six feet and still growing. It had astounded her at first, when she'd come back from a visit a few months prior to find him towering over her, but she'd grown adjusted to it in the visits since then. Now, though, now… he frightened her, just a little.

She'd never seen him look so angry.

"We are past this, Penelo," he said in a very low, very controlled voice.

She swallowed. "Past what?" Her voice was weak even in her own ears.

"We have been friends for four years, and I do believe that is long enough that the time is past for you to walk out on me in the middle of a—a conversation, without telling me what the matter is." She could see that he was struggling not to yell. As Larsa was not prone to bouts of a temper, she knew he was really upset.

Wetting her lips, she dropped her eyes. It was safe now. She was facing him. "Larsa…"

He pushed his fingers into his hair. "What is it, Penelo, what have I done now?"

That made her close her eyes again. Each word was like a stab to her heart, and she bit the inside of her lip. Her fists clenched. Her nails cut into the tender flesh of her palms. The pain felt good, helped steady her. She wouldn't fight with Larsa. She would not.

"I throw you a birthday bash precisely three months ago—"

Their birthdays were only one month apart, exactly, a fact that had thrilled him when he was still twelve and so impressed with her, so in awe of absolutely everything she did.

"—and you walk out halfway through it. You would not say a word of what was wrong, and when questioned later, you tell me that you'd only had a headache." His laughter was thin. She watched his shadow move over the surface of the marble as he started to pace. "You return my gifts… senseless things like jewelry and hair combs, I would understand, as it is unlike you—but when I go deliberately out of my way to find things for you that you would specifically enjoy…"

please stop please just stop please stop

"…the entire collection of Bluvard's plays… signed…"

stop stop please stop just stop

"—oh, and let us not forget, a new knife set specially crafted from the best blacksmith in Archades and most of the country itself—"

"Larsa, stop," she breathed.

"I will not stop!" He pivoted from the window, his arms spread to either side of him. She flinched at the look in his eyes, turned away, put a hand over her mouth. Click, click, click. His hand was on her shoulder, and she knew better than to fight his tug this time. His scent washed over her as he gripped her chin and forced her head up.

He swam in and out of view. Her lip trembled. "Stop," she said.

"Penelo, tell me—what is the matter?"

It was enough, the last straw, she snapped. Her hand came up and slapped his arm away. He stared at her, affronted. She didn't care. Rage was rushing through her, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Unlike Larsa, she had not had years of lessons to visibly control every expression she might think to wear.

"You! You are the matter!" she yelled.

His mouth gaped open. "I beg your pardon?"

"You are marrying someone!"

Now he just shook his head in confusion. "What does that have to do with anything? The contracts were drawn up months ago."

"Yes! Months ago! Three months ago!" She pointed to her chest. "Two days before my birthday! You told me on my birthday—specifically at my birthday bash!" She wanted to throttle him, he was so dense sometimes. Couldn't he see? Couldn't he understand the pain she was in?

His mouth worked open and closed as he tried to process what she was telling him.

Her throat was so tight that she couldn't get anything out but a rasp. They stared at one another, breathing hard. She drew in a third breath, and he took one, as well. His mouth snapped shut. She straightened to her full height, which wasn't very tall at all. Something passed between them, something she couldn't take back.

She didn't care. She turned on her heel and left, and she didn't look back.

What would always bother her later was that he didn't come after her—but then, she hadn't expected anything else.

Larsa Ferrinas Solidor was an emperor. And Penelo?

Penelo was only a pirate.

If he wouldn't draw the line in the sand for the two of them, then she would, even if it broke her heart to pieces in the process.