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[personal profile] velvetfiction
Title: The Sky Will Come to You
Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Characters: Ashe, Larsa, Penelo, Balthier, Al-Cid, Ondore, Fran
Rating: G
Word Count: ~2800
Warnings: none
Summary: Some days, her chains weigh her down more than others; or, 4 People Ashe Corresponded With and 1 She Didn't.
Notes: Written for [archiveofourown.org profile] chaineddove in the 2013 [community profile] not_primetime exchange. Many thanks to Spoke for the beta.
----

1.

After her hastily-organized coronation, Ashe settles into the business of running her country, which turns out to be surprisingly similar to running a resistance movement.

She reads through the correspondence from the Archadian Empire and despairs of ever starting a meaningful dialog between her nation and their former subjugator. The language in the official missives is perfectly diplomatic and says exactly nothing.

Then she discovers a slim, unadorned envelope tucked into the bottom of the courier's pouch. The paper is rough, a sharp contrast from the fine parchment of the official documents, and when she draws it out into the candlelight, it is addressed to a single name - Amalia.

The handwriting is unfamiliar, but she knows at once who it is from, and she nearly laughs aloud in relief.

The letter is long and rambling, wandering between youthful optimism and a weary realism far older than his years. She replies in kind, and gleefully addresses the envelope to Lamont and drops it in the bottom of the return pouch.

The letters between Amalia and Lamont fly back and forth, saying all the things that would give their official advisors coronaries, and Ashe finally begins to understand what her father meant when he patiently explained to her that true diplomacy did not take place in the staterooms, but over the dinner table.

Be yourself, Larsa advises in one letter, not who they want you to be. You do a disservice to yourself and your country should you try to be other than what you are.

She taps her chin thoughtfully, and sets the letter aside, to join the others in the growing pile on her desk.

A month later, she summarily rejects the ornate dresses and fancy gowns that fill her closets. Her seamstress nearly faints when she details the requirements for her new wardrobe. The satin and brocade remain, but are fitted into tight bodices, divided skirts and even breeches. The first time she openly wears her sword, as Rasler did, her court and council nearly revolt. That her sword is named "Save the Queen" is a point not even the dimmest courtier can miss - Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca will save herself, and her whole country, if needed. Again.

I am starting a revolution in my own country - again, she writes. Won't you join me in this most excellent endeavor?

I believe I already have, Larsa writes back, and slowly, but surely, tentative diplomatic bonds are formed between Dalmasca and Archades.

2.

I hear you are starting a revolution, Al-Cid writes. Good. The stuffy old men who think they run the countries need shaking up from time to time.

Ashe smiles as she reads, for Al-Cid writes the way he speaks, and she can easily picture him gesturing wildly with a cup of wine, and yet somehow managing not to spill a drop.

Theirs is a lively, if irregular, correspondence. His letters are informal and chatty, and the paper he sends them on always smells faintly spicy, evoking some exotic perfume that Ashe imagines must waft through the rooms of the Rozarrian palace.

She responds in kind, indulging in a gossipy side of her personality that she never would have suspected she had in her.

I thought my Seneschal was going to have a fit when I informed him that I was going to need room in my schedule at least three times a week for training, she writes. Fortunately, there are still enough people from the Resistance around that I can find someone willing to cross blades with the Queen. I refuse to let my skills go to waste simply because I "shouldn't" or I "have people to do that" for me. (Yes, those are both direct quotes from certain people whose names don't deserve mention.) You must come visit me, so that we may cross blades - if you can call that knitting needle you wield a "blade."

She revels in the ability to tease and flirt, knowing it will not be held against her. The truce with Archades is still far too new to contemplate a deep alliance with Rozarria, of the kind that a state marriage would bring. Not to mention the fact that Al-Cid is the third child, and his older brother is still unwed.

Besides, Ashe holds out hope that she will be able to marry for love, if she ever does marry again.

She stops that train of thought before it can reach places she has firmly told herself she will not go, and turns back to her letter.

But thoughts of open skies and the smell of engine grease override the spice-filled halls of Rozarria in her mind and she spends many minutes staring blankly into the candle flame.

3.

The note from Penelo comes from one of the pages that inhabit the castle, invisible until they are needed.

Ashe scowls and immediately scribbles a note for the page to deliver to Lord Neras. She had warned him that raising the import tax on woolen goods was not going to go over well. And, it seems, she was correct about that. Assuming Penelo's assessment of the merchants is correct - and she has no doubt it is.

Over the course of their journey, she and Balthier unwittingly instructed the girl in the intricacies of politics. Always observant, Penelo took to the dance of cause and effect like a moogle to mechanics, and Ashe suspects she has been further coached by Larsa.

Her councillors often wonder how their queen has such a good feel for the temperament of the city at any given moment. Ashe doesn't have the heart to tell them that she gets most of her information from someone they probably wouldn't give the time of day to.

She sends the page on his way to Lord Neras and sits down to write a response to Penelo.

Thank you for the note about the merchants. I warned Neras that they were not going to be happy, but he insisted. I shall now tell them all "I told you so" at the next council meeting. Subtly, of course. They still hold considerable power, for all that I am their Queen. But we are slowly finding a balance and they are learning to value my opinions and choices.

Ashe finds herself continuing Penelo's education in politics without quite knowing why. There is simply a vague instinct prodding her along, that her friend needs to know these things.

That thought stops Ashe, and she sets aside the note, in favor of digging through the last few letters from Larsa. She skims them, trying to place the source of this vague feeling. Several phrases catch her eye, and she spreads the letters out across her desk, slowly rereading sections of each one. A clear picture begins to form, and Ashe laughs, long and loud, startling one of her maids into sticking her head in the room to check to make sure that Her Majesty was alright.

Ashe waves the girl off with a chuckle, and gathers the papers back up. She returns to her note to Penelo, unable to keep a broad grin off her face. She sees Larsa's subtle campaign, now; if he means to make a common Dalmascan girl the next Empress of Archades, she will do everything in her power to help.

Fleetingly, she wishes Balthier were there to share the joke. She is certain he would appreciate the irony.

4.

The letter from Fran arrives on one of the rare rainy days in Dalmasca. Giza is in the rainy season, and sometimes the storms make their way over the city. It is a welcome relief from the heat, and Ashe allows herself the rare luxury of lounging in a window seat and watching the rain fall.

She turns again to the letter in her lap. It is, as always, short and to the point, and far more informative that it might appear at first glance. Ashe is slowly learning to read between the lines of Fran's letters, to hear what she isn't saying as much as what she is.

Ashe never asks after the Viera's partner, and Fran never volunteers anything beyond the plural "we" when talking about where they are. And yet, Ashe finds herself eagerly awaiting each letter with a flutter in her stomach.

It is a correspondence that Fran initiated. Ashe isn't sure she would have had the nerve to write, had a letter from Fran not appeared on her desk first. She still isn't sure how Fran has them delivered, although she suspects moogles are involved somehow. Her own return letters go by way of Penelo and Vaan, who always seem to know how to get in touch with the pair.

Ashe supposes it is better that way - as Queen, she probably oughtn't know in too much detail what a pair of well-known sky pirates are up to. But another part of her chafes at the chains her position imposes upon her. Most days, she wears them lightly, but at times, when the open sky calls out to her, she can feel the full weight of what might have been.

I feel tethered, she writes, indulging in the full bout of melancholy that the weather brings. There are days when I wish I could bring myself to cast everything aside and run freely with you. Is it too late to request another kidnapping?

Have patience, child, Fran councils in her next letter, and Ashe smiles. Fran and Uncle Halim are the only ones who can call her "child" and not risk royal wrath. Do not neglect your duties to your people, and your duties to yourself will take care of themselves. You may find in time that the sky will come to you.

Ashe can only puzzle over the meaning of the Viera's words.

5.

Ashe fusses with the skirt of her gown one last time, brushes the hilt of her sword in reassurance, and then forces her hands to drop to her side. She has consented to wearing gowns again, but only at very specific events, and the sword remains, over the protests of the council.

The arrival of the Marquis Ondore for his first official visit since Dalmasca reasserted its independence is certainly one such event that requires a gown.

The visit is ostensibly to reaffirm the ties between the two small nations, and to hammer out some renewed trade agreements, but Ondore has hinted that there is another reason. Both Larsa and Penelo have become cagey lately, and even Fran has been more tight-lipped than usual, and Ashe has the feeling that everyone in the world knows what is going on but her.

She is trying very hard to be patient, but if she doesn't get some answers soon, she is going to remind everyone that she knows full well how to wield the sword at her hip.

Then the trumpets sound, signalling the arrival of her guests and she smooths her face into a neutral mask.

"Marquis Halim Ondore the Fourth," the herald announces, and Ashe watches her uncle make his entrance. His walking stick makes a tap-tap-tap on the polished floor, commanding everyone's attention. Ashe smiles to herself and makes a mental note to mention that trick to Penelo later.

"Uncle," she murmurs, as she curtsies formally. "Is someone going to tell me what is going on?"

"Have patience, child. You will know soon enough," Ondore replies. He then leans forward for a proper hug, which Ashe gladly grants. There are indulgent smiles from the courtiers near by, but no one objects. It is well known that their Queen claims a familial - if not blood - relationship with the Marquis.

Ondore steps to Ashe's side as the trumpets blow again, and Ashe turns back to the entrance.

She freezes in shock and only training since childhood allows her to maintain her composure.

She barely hears the herald announce "Lord Commander Balthier and Master Engineer Fran, of the Bhujerban Sky Fleet." Her entire focus is on the man walking towards her.

She curtsies briefly to the pair, training taking over where cognitive function fails. The rest of the ceremony passes in a blur, as does the meal that follows. Protocol dictates that Balthier and Fran are seated at the opposite end of the table from the Queen and her guest, so all Ashe can do is plaster a smile on her face and try not to shoot too many questioning looks at Ondore.

She is, perhaps, disproportionately grateful that there is no ball scheduled for that evening, and she escapes to her private apartment as soon as is able, shedding her gown as fast as her maid can undo the clasps. She dons more comfortable attire and sends several pages off with messages commanding - politely, in Ondore's case, but still commanding - the presence of her friends immediately, if not sooner. She will get her answers.

They enter Ashe's study as a group, and the silence hangs heavily for a moment while she glares at them.

"Well?" she asks, and her voice has an edge that could cut steel.

"Well what?" Balthier asks mildly. "You'd think the Princess wasn't happy to see us."

Ashe grabs her sword and draws it out of the sheath several inches. "Explain."

"Explain what?" Balther says, in the same infuriatingly mild tone. "Really, Princess, you need to be more articulate."

"Enough." Fran cuts him off with a single word, and gracefully sits in one of the chairs. "You have had your fun, now it is time for explanations."

Every one else takes a seat as well, although Ashe keeps her sword in close reach, and they turn as one towards Ondore.

"After our last battle, and observing the way the Strahl can move, it occurred to me that, as the leader of a skycity, it would behoove me to improve our airship fleet. There has been little innovation in military airship design in the last generation. It was gently made known to me that I had the acquaintance of two of the leading innovators in the field, and that I might be able to acquire their services - for a price, of course."

"And just what was that price?"

"Legitimacy," Fran answers immediately. "Legitimacy and respect. We grow weary of endless wandering, and - "

"And it was pointed out to me that while playing pirate is acceptable for a while, it was time for me to grow up," Balthier says, interrupting his partner. "Ondore's proposition suited both of us, so here we are. Members of the establishment at last."

Ashe feels that her face must run through the whole gamut of emotions in a matter of moments. "Truly?" she says, trying to keep too much hope out of her voice. She doesn't think she succeeds.

"Truly," Fran confirms, and exchanges a long glance with Ondore. They both rise and withdraw to the adjoining room, leaving the door open for propriety's sake, but giving the remaining pair their privacy.

Ashe wastes no time in launching herself at Balthier, gasping with something that isn't quite laughter and isn't quite sobs. He catches her easily and he holds her close.

"I've missed you so much," she says into his chest.

"I know. And I, you. It was your letters that helped convince me to do this. Fran shared some of them with me, but even the ones she kept private helped push me in the right direction. Knowing that you could write to her and not me was. . . difficult."

Ashe looks up at him and smiles. "So you are truly Lord Commander of the Bhujerban fleet?"

"I am. Larsa thinks it is the grandest joke in the world - but then, he's planning on making Penelo Empress some day, so of course he would. You do know about that plan, don't you?"

She laughs. "I do. I've been trying to help prepare her, as subtly as I can." She nudges Balthier until he sits back down, and then she slides into his lap. "Our dear little Larsa is going to shake the world up even more than I did."

"And we'll be right there, cheering him on the whole way. I think he may have designs on finding Basch a nice Rozarrian wife, just to complete the set."

"Can you imagine?"

They then sit in a comfortable silence, reveling in the ability to be close to each other.

"Shall we call the others back in and gossip away the night?" Balthier asks eventually.

"You mean you're finally going to deign to explain how all of this came about?" Ashe replies archly.

"If you promise not to threaten me with your sword again."

Ashe pokes him in the stomach. "Only when you really deserve it," she agrees.

Balthier calls out to the others, and Ashe settles herself more comfortably on his lap. She can feel the weight of the chains lessening already.
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