Disclaimer: I don't own FF12 or any of the characters .

Pairing: Larsa x Penelo, some Vaan x Penelo

Summary: Larsa was never afraid to play the long game. Penelo was never afraid to follow her heart, though she wasn't always quite sure where it was taking her. Sometimes it beat to rhythms he couldn't quite catch, but it never wanted to run away. LxP, some VxP

Notes: I just started playing FF12 again and I really wanted to do a Penelo x Grown Up Larsa, but I wanted to show their relationship building and changing over time. It also didn't make sense to me to ignore Vaan, so that's there for now, but the main pairing is LxP. I've already started on chapter two, so I'll probably put that up in about a week. I hope somebody reads this and likes it…!

News: Finally put my finger on what I didn't like about the style I was writing the story in and fixed it. This chapter is rewritten although the second half of it is mostly the same. The second and third chapters will be getting rewrites soon. Fourth chapter is still in the works.


ON YOUR WINGS

chapter one: the first gift


The Surya's glossair engines whirred to a soft halt as Penelo went through the now familiar procedure of shutting the ship down. Vaan was already stretching next to her, his seat reclining back as his arms reached out over the headrest. The flight from Balfonheim back to Rabanastre had been a long one and they were both a little tired.

As Penelo flipped the last switch to cut power to the airship's primary systems, silence filled the cabin, and she was struck once again at how strange it all seemed. Just two years ago she never would have dreamed of riding on an airship, much less knowing how to navigate for one regularly and pilot it when she had to.

It was surreal sometimes, to think that a girl that had had her feet so solidly on the ground in Rabanastre's Lowtown could fly all around the world now.

"It was nice to see Rikken, Raz, and Elza doing so well," she said.

Vaan nodded. "I kind of expected Balfonheim to fall apart without Reddas, but it seems like they're doing good."

"Mmhmm," Penelo said, thinking back on their trip.

She'd always liked the warm sea air and never missed the chance to dip her feet in the water off the pier. They'd walked up to the mansion where Reddas used to live barefoot to see his three accomplices flourishing even in his absence.

"Mostly people respect what he stood for," Elza said. "We can't keep track of everything the way he used to though. It's never going to be exactly the same, but we're making the best of it."

A story Penelo and Vaan were both familiar with.

They did a hunt on the Cerobi Steppe after checking in on the trio and traded for some water gems. The latest news was that the Balfonheim Port refused to pay taxes to Archadia. There was some conflict over that, but Penelo hadn't really wanted to hear about it. Vaan was more interested than she was in the fact that some pirates based out of Balfonheim were targeting merchant ships from Archadia, and that Archadian merchants refused to pass through the area and were taking an overland route through Rabanastre before crossing over to Bhujerba.

"Has Larsa said anything about it?" Vaan asked, fully aware of how much the young emperor and Penelo wrote to each other.

He had, but Penelo didn't think it would really be appropriate to share as she assumed that those parts of their communication were private, so she'd just shrugged. She recalled what he'd written though:

Balfonheim is a most troublesome issue—one that I am sure you have heard of on your travels. On the one hand I would be perfectly happy to cut the pirate city from the Empire if that is truly what they wish. On the other I fear it would set too dangerous an example for other territories of the Empire. It would be much easier to deal with were there a central authority in Balfonheim, but aside from the largely ignored Imperial governor, there is no one to represent the city or the people living in it clearly. There are only pirates, who may just as easily be viewed as brutes at best and rebels at worst. The last thing I would do is use force against them, but I fear that it is coming on the day where I might not have a choice.

It had worried her so much she'd brought it up to Rikken, Raz, and Elza. Not exactly the way Larsa had put it, but a simpler version. She'd urged them to try to organize the pirates attacking Archadian ships under one banner with someone that the Empire could actually talk to. Rikken had been giving a rather rousing speech in the Quayside Courtyards when they'd left. Penelo could only hope that she'd helped some.

"Hey," Vaan said, tapping her shoulder and bringing her back to the present. "Let's go see how Migelo's doing. I'm starving."

"Vaan," Penelo tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at him.

Vaan held up his hands defensively, "I was going to pay him!"

"Yeah, yeah," Penelo said as she stood up.

"Whaat?" Vaan said, "I was."

The aerodrome at Rabanastre was busier than usual, though Penelo wasn't surprised after what they'd heard in Balfonheim. Still, she didn't quite like the mass of bodies crowding the already hot, dry space and more than once she and Vaan bumped into people rushing by. The Archadians always seemed more annoyed than the Dalmascans or Bhujerbans, but Penelo supposed it was probably because they were ill-dressed for the climate.

"You'd think they'd at least dress like they're going to the desert," Vaan said, eyeing a few wilted Archadians wiping sweat from their foreheads and grumbling at a docent.

"Well you dress the same way all the time and then go to Archades in the middle of winter and complain about the cold," Penelo reasoned.

"That's different," Vaan said. "No place has any business being that cold."

Penelo rolled her eyes and found the docent for private airship dockings. "The Surya's docked in N7," she said, rolling off their usual space. It cost a bit to keep a regular docking port that way, but they were so often in Rabanastre that it just beat having to pay the regular fees and made it easier for people to send them messages and packages. "Anything new?"

"Hmm," the docent hummed while searching for a small key to unlock their private box. "I think there was something," she said as she turned the key and opened the drawer.

"You know, nobody ever writes to me," Vaan complained. "Even Balthier's started addressing everything to you."

"Because you never write back," Penelo replied.

"Well, yeah," Vaan scratched his head, "Because you do…"

The docent retrieved an envelope and a package from their drawer and held them both out to Penelo. "Here we go, one letter and one package, both from Archades. Now if you'll just sign…"

"Gee, I wonder who that's from," Vaan asked, voice dripping with sarcasm as Penelo signed for the items.

"I think it's nice that he keeps in touch," Penelo said. And it's nice to have someone else to talk to sometimes, she added mentally. Not that she didn't love talking to Vaan, it was just that sometimes it was nice to get a different perspective.

She put the package in her bag and opened the letter since it seemed short enough to read on the way to Migelo's.

"What's that?" Vaan asked as he guided her through the crowded aerodrome.

"It's an invitation to Larsa's fourteenth birthday in Archades," she replied. "He also says the package has some Rozarrian sweets for Kytes and Filo."

"That's nice of him," Vaan said, "How does he even know who they are?"

Penelo stuffed the letter in her bag next to the package and was about to answer when Vaan said.

"That was a joke, I know you wrote about them."

They emerged from the aerodrome onto the slightly less busy street outside the Westgate. "It's in a few weeks, so we should be able to make it," Penelo said.

Vaan made a face. "You mean you actually want to go to Archades? To one of those parties with those stuffed shirt, stuffy-stuffed up nobles?"

"Vaan, it's his birthday!"

"I know, I know," Vaan said. "It's just… why does he have to live there? Don't answer that, I know."

Penelo had been about to make a face at him, but she knew Vaan wasn't really going to refuse to go to Larsa's party. Much as he complained about Archades, Penelo knew Vaan thought of Larsa as kind of an honorary little brother the same way Kytes and Filo were. He always asked how "that emperor kid" was doing and sometimes even wrote his own notes as postscripts to Penelo's letters. Penelo wasn't ashamed to admit she had a pretty big soft spot for Larsa too.

It was something she'd always remember, even though there had been so much going on at the time. The Bahamut was falling and she was trying to keep the Strahl steady just the way Fran had shown her. Judge Zargabaath on the Alexander had said he was going to ram his ship into the Bahamut to push it away from Rabanastre and the moment it sunk in for everyone that he meant to sacrifice himself and his entire crew, she'd felt something press against the back of her seat and somehow she'd known that it was Larsa, leaning forward as the weight of the Empire settled squarely on his shoulders. More than anything, he was a lonely kid with a tough job. Keeping up with his letters was the least she could do, and he definitely deserved a good birthday.

Something occurred to her just then that got her a little bit worried. They always managed to get presents for Kytes and Filo and all the other kids, but what could they possibly get Larsa? She asked Vaan as much right as they entered Migelo's shop.

"I don't know, you're the one who writes him all the time. Shouldn't you know?"

Penelo shook her head and Vaan pointed to a shelf just behind her. "Hey, we could always get him a Hi-Potion. He used to carry those around a lot, right?"

Penelo liked to think her elbow had just grown a mind of its own when it decided to bore itself into his rib.

#

The next day, after they'd rested up, they dropped by the Sandsea to see if there were any hunts posted. Penelo thought it would be a good idea so they could pick up some extra spending money for Larsa's present.

Vaan had said, "I'm sure whatever you get him will be fine—it's the thought that counts right? You know he's not expecting a priceless gem from us or anything."

"I know, but I want to get him something nice. Something like… I don't know."

"All right," Vaan said, "We can always stop by the bazaar later."

And Penelo had nodded because that seemed like a good idea. It made sense to get him something from Dalmasca for some reason. To remind him of them.

At the Sandsea, Tomaj greeted them as soon as they got inside with an "Overgrown Hyena on the Giza Plains—we're calling it 'The Howl in the Desert'—you guys got time to take care of it? Thing's been doing terrors for business."

It was just the sort of job they were looking for, so they took the posting and headed out right then. They walked the familiar path to the Southgate and Penelo almost couldn't get over how different it all was. Almost just the way she'd remembered it as a child, like the whole invasion had been a bad dream and it was time to wake up, go home, and see her family again. Of course that wasn't what it was like, but she was torn—a part of her was happy that the city had been restored and the rest of her thought it was strange that it could be so similar, yet so different at the same time.

The gate opened and a rush of hot wind threaded with sand blew into Penelo's face. She lifted up her hand to shield her eyes as the gate whooshed shut behind them. The sun felt hotter on her skin outside the shade of the city and off in the distance she could see the wind pick up and swirl the sand in the air as though they were dancing together. When she inhaled, she felt the baked, arid air fill her lungs and it reminded her of standing by the gate watching her brothers go off to hunt, her mother's hands steady on her shoulders.

It made her think of one of the poems her father used to read to her:

The seas of sand whirl wild to a hume

Were I only a Danbania

I could swim them with grace

That was when she knew the perfect gift was sitting right under her nose.

#

The second she returned to the Surya, Penelo walked straight to her room. She threw her equipment on the floor, reminding herself to get to putting it all away as soon as possible, and went to pull open the top drawer of her desk.

Inside was a small book, creased and worn, its pages weathered with love. It was called The Poems of Arraya and once it had belonged to her father. Penelo opened it up and read a few lines, even though she knew them all by heart. When she closed her eyes, she could almost hear her father's voice over her shoulder. Feel his arm around her as he pointed to words, sounding them out patiently as she followed. Could remember him flattering her mother over the dinner table by saying: Surely the flowers of the desert / must be the most beautiful / Their will is stronger than the sun / their lives as precious as water.

"Not one of her best," her mother would say, ever practical as she shook a spoon at her husband. "Arraya was a desert flower herself, you know. It's simply self flattery." But there was no hiding the smile that lit up her face. Books were something of a luxury in Rabanastre. Their family had precious few and they were not selected carelessly.

Penelo shook her head slightly to clear the memory. She didn't know much about poetry and she doubted her father had either, but these had always sounded nice to her. Reminded her of home when she was away. She'd taught Kytes to read with this book when she'd first found out that he didn't know and a few of the other kids too. It had served them all well.

It was something special to her. It reminded her of the love she'd had for the people in her life, and she was certain, absolutely certain that an emperor would be much better able to take care of it than a sky pirate. Besides she figured with all the politicians around him, Larsa could probably use a little love in his life.

#

They arrived at Archades in the afternoon, Vaan tugging at his shirt collar and fussing about his long sleeves.

"Why do they have to wear such uncomfortable clothes in Archadia," he complained.

"Because it's cold," Penelo said. "You should have brought a vest."

"I have a vest," he whined. "It just didn't fit over this stupid shirt."

Penelo sighed. "Well don't complain to me when you're freezing your tail off."

"Well, I don't have a tail," Vaan shot back. "So I'll be fine. You on the other hand…"

"Vaaaaaaan."

Penelo almost couldn't blame him. The dress she wore was made of a thick material that seemed to weigh her down and her skirt seemed like it was determined to get in her way. The collar was a bit more obtrusive than what she was used to and the colors weren't as bright as she normally liked, but it had been cheap and she knew it would be warm and that was all that really mattered. The sleeves and collar were a starch white and the body of the dress was a kind of navy blue with gray stitching. It wasn't anything fancy but she comforted herself with the thought that she at least looked better than Vaan. He'd chosen to wear the same pants he normally wore, but with a white shirt instead of his normal vest.

"Let's just get this over with," Vaan said, as he stepped out of the airship. "This city… it bothers me."

Penelo followed him after making sure that her gift was tucked away safely in the small brown bag she was carrying. "I know what you mean," she replied. It was the reason she never pressed Vaan to visit whenever Larsa invited them, even though she did want to see her friend. She could never put her finger on it exactly—it was just something generally unsettling.

People walked around the aerodrome looking stiff and hurried. Everything was cool and clean and clear—nothing like what two street kids from Rabanastre were used to and certainly not an ideal environment for sky pirates. A nearly direct contrast to the bustle they'd left in Rabanastre. To her surprise, Vaan looped his arm through hers. "Come on," he said, tilting his head. "I know you don't want to be late."

"Yeah," she smiled, nodding lightly. Her heart beat a little faster and suddenly she was a little bit nervous. Vaan's arm was warm against hers—a hotspot that seemed to radiate through the rest of her body. It wasn't as though she and Vaan never touched or anything. It was just that usually he was so immature it was easy to forget how considerate he could be sometimes. For a moment, the hope that he might see her as more than a partner flared up again. She didn't pay it too much attention, though. They'd spent so much time together… she wasn't expecting some sudden change. Still he was nineteen now and she was about to turn eighteen so maybe, she thought, just maybe he was finally starting to notice her.

Clanking metal broke through her reverie, the sound jarring against the low hum of the aerodrome. Vaan dropped her arm and stiffened next to her. She tensed as well, her hand instinctively reaching toward the small knife she kept at her side. A cadre of Imperial soldiers stood between the two pirates and the exit to the aerodrome. Penelo and Vaan stood, not quite in fighting stances, but ready all the same. She half expected the soldiers to rush them at any second and a quick glance at Vaan's face told her he was thinking the same thing. Was analyzing the "enemy" numbers and their odds of victory. Two rows of four each making eight total. It was a fight they would have had to run from.

Luckily that wasn't the case. The doors to the aerodrome parted again and Penelo thought she saw a familiar horned helmet behind the soldiers. She didn't have to wait long to see who it was. The soldiers—guards, she now realized, parted down the center revealing Larsa, Basch trailing behind him in full armor.

Gabranth, she reminded herself sternly. And a Judge.

It was easier to remember when he was dressed like that, she thought, relaxing. Vaan had settled down too, sighing in relief. "Jeez Larsa," he said. "You nearly scared the pants off me."

"Good thing he didn't have more soldiers," Penelo joked. Vaan scowled and stepped forward to clap the younger boy's arm.

"It's good to see you," he said. Then, "Hey, you're taller than Penelo now." Penelo tried her best not to make a face at that one.

"Not by more than an inch," Larsa replied ever tactful as he returned Vaan's greeting. "I apologize for the soldiers and for my sudden arrival—I'd just heard about your landing and their presence is a matter of protocol."

"It's ok, Larsa," Penelo said, leaning forward to hug him. "We just weren't expecting you here, that's all. Happy Birthday."

"Thank you," Larsa replied wrapping his arms around her with more slightly more grace than he'd been able to muster for Vaan's more unconventional greeting. Penelo couldn't help but notice that he was actually around her height now. "I wished to be present for your arrival. I know how unfamiliar you both are with Archades and I would have much regretted it if you were to somehow lose your way."

"Larsa," Vaan said. "You live in the palace; even we're not that dumb."

"Vaan," Penelo hissed, mortified at how rude he was being.

"What?" he asked loudly. "We're not," he paused. "Well, maybe you."

Whatever insulting reply Penelo had been about to shoot back got stuffed by Larsa's light chuckling. "Of course not," the boy said, interrupting their fight. "Neither of you. I confess that I was also somewhat eager to see the both of you. It's been so very long."

Vaan rubbed the back of his head. "Yeah… we don't really do much business out here."

Penelo knew what he really meant by that was "It's not you, it's Archades." Vaan might have complained a lot about their coming, but he did really care about Larsa. It was obvious in the way he smiled and joked with him almost the same way he did with Kytes—like they were all honorary younger brothers.

Larsa shot Penelo a quick look after Vaan's comment. His expression hadn't changed much, but there was a playful look in his eye. "With your kind of business I suppose I should be somewhat thankful for that," he said laughing gently.

Vaan shrugged, not having any real argument. Penelo smiled too at this small reminder that he kept her letters. She wanted to greet Basch too, just as Vaan must have, but neither of them was sure it would be all right to hug a Judge. Larsa seemed to notice that they were glancing behind them.

"We should head to the palace right away," Larsa said, taking hold of Penelo's hand and motioning Vaan forward politely. "I'm sure you would like to get settled before the other guests arrive."

"Sure," Penelo replied for both of them, accepting Larsa's hand and grinning broadly.

It was then that she remembered ladies in Archades didn't usually walk around hands swinging freely when there were men in the party. Is that why Vaan…? She wondered, thinking back to the way he'd taken her arm as they'd left the airship. She couldn't think about it too much though, Larsa had her arm now, all soft consideration as they walked.

"I really do hope you weren't too startled or offended by my presence here," he said.

"Larsa, we're a pair of sky pirates," Penelo prodded back. "We're nearly impossible to offend. We just didn't expect you to go through the trouble."

"A warm greeting is never trouble for an old friend," Larsa replied sincerely.

In her head, Penelo responded to this by saying that Larsa was one of the kindest, most polite, most thoughtful people she had ever known, but she didn't want to put him on the spot by saying it out loud. She knew from his letters that he was somewhat uncomfortable with receiving such compliments, so instead she settled for a heartfelt, "Thank you."

When they reached the Imperial Palace, they went straight to Larsa's private study. The guards were dismissed, and the servants as well so that it was finally just the four of them together. Basch removed his helmet and Penelo squashed the stray thought that breathing must have been unpleasant in it.

"It's good to see you, buddy," Vaan said as he shook Basch's metal encased hand. "How's Archades treating you? The nobles are a total bore, right?"

"Vaan!" Penelo exclaimed thinking not for the first time that she should have taped his mouth shut before they left the airship.

"Oh, well I didn't mean you Larsa, I just meant, you know."

Larsa gave him a small, sympathetic smile. "I'm not offended."

"You're so embarrassing," Penelo said, pinching his arm in exasperation.

"Ow, hey!"

Basch laughed low and short. "It is good to see that the both of you are as lively as ever," he said.

"You too," Penelo said, giving him an awkward hug over his armor.

"I have been well," Basch said in reply to Vaan's earlier question. "I must confess I am rather glad that there is not much excitement here as it means Lord Larsa is safe and well. I hear that you have been leading quite eventful lives since last we met."

"Yeah," Vaan said. "Totally, we have this ship…"

Penelo tuned this part out. She didn't need to hear about her own adventures and she supposed Larsa didn't either since he'd read about most of them. "Would you like to have a seat?" he asked, gesturing toward a plush white, mahogany framed settee.

"Thanks." Penelo sat on the right edge and Larsa set himself to her left.

"Have you been well since you last wrote me?" he asked.

"Mmhmm," she nodded. "Vaan and I took down this giant hyena in the Giza Plains and—oh!" She exclaimed, smacking her forehead. "I almost forgot, I brought you a present—from us."

Larsa's eyes widened in surprise. "You did not have to—" he began.

"It's your birthday," Penelo insisted, pulling the package from her bag.

The gift was wrapped in plain brown paper with a red bow around it. One corner of it read, "Happy Birthday, Larsa! From Penelo and Vaan" since Vaan had said that if she didn't put his name on whatever she picked, he was really just planning on getting Larsa a Hi-Potion.

"Happy Birthday," Vaan chirped from his spot near the fireplace with Basch. "I don't know if I said that already…"

"Thank you," Larsa said, taking the present from Penelo. He looked at the package wonderingly for a moment.

"It's not much," Penelo said. "In fact it's sort of old…"

"Do you mind if I open it now?" he asked her a bit quickly, as though he'd been afraid she was going to spoil the gift.

"Go ahead," she said. A light blush went across her cheeks and she was suddenly thinking that maybe her present hadn't been so perfect after all, because really, what did the emperor of Archadia need with a used book?

Larsa slid the ribbon off the package, preserving the bow she'd tied, before peeling the paper away. Penelo watched with no small amazement—he hadn't even torn the wrapping at all, so unlike the kids she was used to who just ripped everything apart as quickly as possible. Larsa set the wrapping down on the end table next to him before considering what it had contained.

"The Poems of Arraya," he read and his brow furrowed. "I confess I have never encountered the name."

"A Dalmascan poet," Basch informed him. "You would not have come across her in your studies."

"That's what we gave you?" Vaan asked, and Penelo couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes at how he'd just given it away after insisting that the present should be from both of them. "Those aren't really that good," he said. "They don't even rhyme and all she does is talk about nature and stuff."

"It belonged to my parents," Penelo said, ignoring Vaan for the moment. She knew he'd never been a particular fan. "It's always reminded me of home, but I've memorized them all by now and it seemed like a good time for them to get a new owner—you know in case someone flies us into a mountain or something."

"Hey, someone would have to navigate us into that mountain first!"

Larsa looked a little alarmed when she mentioned that they might crash, but he seemed to place the thought aside as he turned his attention to the book once more. He opened it delicately, took note of the creased pages and the worn spine.

Penelo was about to start feeling embarrassed that she hadn't bothered to locate him a new copy when his eyes met hers. There was an earnestness in them, and… something else that she couldn't quite place.

"I will treasure it always," he said. "Thank you."

Penelo couldn't help but smile with relief.


CHAPTER TWO PREVIEW:

A kiss not quite stolen.