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[Fic] FFXII - These Unending Alchemies of Honour (Vaan/Gabranth, Basch, Larsa, Penelo) (PG13) (1/5)
zoro spazz (fire_tears)
justira wrote in ff_exchange
Title: These Unending Alchemies of Honour | Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five
Also available on my Dreamwdith in one post [here].
For: chaosraven
Medium: Fic
Request(s): Vaan/Gabranth. Post-game, Gabranth lives to tell the tale and Vaan is stuck with conflicting feelings.

Fandom(s): FFXII:OGC
Characters/Pairings: Vaan/Gabranth, Basch, Larsa, Penelo
Rating: PG13
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers through the end of the game. Full disclosure: canonically, Vaan is 17 and Gabranth is 36 so. Uh. Yeah. Pedobear seal of approval.

Feedback: Holy sweet jesus, yes please. For anyone who wants to give me some serious crit, I've put together some notes/concerns on the all-in-one-post DW version..
Word Count: 38,500 WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN

Summary: Gabranth lives, and there is nothing simple about it— not for him, nor Basch, and most especially not Vaan.

Notes: OKAY UH. I have a lot of people to thank here, and also a few notes on canon, not to mention my crit notes. I'll be doing the thanking here, the canon notes at the end, and the crit notes on the DW copy only.

A huge thanks to first_seventhe for the gamma read, the beta read, the cheerleading. This story could not have happened without you and your awesome suggestions. Another huge thanks to heyheyrenay, for beta reading, putting up with my woe and whining, staving off my panic attacks for the past week, and babysitting em as I painstakingly finished editing this thing. Thanks also go to lassarina for help in the early stages of plotting and also for listening to my endless moaning. Finally, thanks to mithrigil for the advice on language; though I didn't have time to ask for a full language beta, the advice you gave me was very helpful.







These Unending Alchemies of Honour


____




Basch's memories were largely the textures of his life: cool wisps of a Landis night, the harsher sun of Dalmasca, the familiar chafe of armour. Later: cold iron about his neck and wrists, and the slow sick forever-warming to the clammy temperature of skin, always flush with the fever of his anger. Then, the feel of borrowed clothes, first those looted, and then those donated, grudgingly or open-armed; the scratch of each coarse thread against his skin and the ill-fitting tightness across his chest growing precious for the meanings behind the gifts.

But later, after the rest of those first, thick days had blurred together into endless hours of dizzy tension, he would remember something else: sights and sounds that would still make his throat go dry.

He would remember his head jerking up at the familiar feel of Fran's magick mixing with his own as the Strahl juddered around them and Noah's breath rasped from the bunk. Their eyes met for only the barest second, and then she was gone, her heels ringing down the ramp as she followed Balthier into the sky fortress. Her magick taking hold, meager—Fran never being as powerful a caster as Vaan—but precise with a century of skill, a clever mix of green and white. Pouring the dregs of his own after it, clumsily reinforcing her work.

He would remember Larsa's hands, not shaking at all, steady and methodical as he tore open packet after packet of potions, mixing the powders with remedy gels instead of water, smearing the concentrated concoction everywhere, dabbing it at Noah's lips, trying to entice him to swallow.

His white gloves growing filthy, stained with Noah's blood, and his hands looking very small.

And he would remember that, even as their efforts let Noah cling to life, there was a war to prevent.

After so much toil, it had seemed almost easy. He would remember the chill that trickled down his spine as he issued Gabranth's orders, voice clipped (brother, do not leave me to this).

And Larsa hurrying up to do his part, his voice tense and solemn, and Ashe; and Noah lay dying behind them.

Ashe saying, "We are free."

Basch had watched her wilt, put a hand on her shoulder, and thought: nearly all.

The desperate bubble of fear rising from his gut as the Bahamut began to fall on Rabanastre; his heart stuttering as two pillars of his world crumbled around him.

Balthier. Balthier's voice, cocky and confident.

For all Balthier's talk and bluster— Basch would have no other but he, and Fran beside him, labouring to save Rabanastre.

Basch could do no more here; he swallowed down the helpless feeling. Noah.

He scrambled back into the cabin, Ashe's choked voice clutching at his heart, Noah's need yet drawing him away. Larsa was fast on his heels, and they knelt together as they reached the bunk, resuming their vigil. Noah's eyes were open; he had been listening, though Basch doubted his understanding, not with the pain filming his eyes, stretching his lips tight, reaving furrows around his eyes that made him seem far older than the years he shared with Basch.

Basch took his hand, threading the thin magick that had returned to him in his short absence, half an ear still turned to the cockpit where Balthier was entrusting Vaan with the Strahl.

And when the Bahamut crashed down into the empty sands, Basch's breath huffed out in a choked sound that was half cheer, half sob—Balthier, Fran, Balthier, Fran, Fran, Noah, Noah Noah don't you leave me, too.

But seconds after the crash had shuddered through the metal bones of the ship, up through Basch's knees to echo hollow in his heart— Penelo had vaulted over her seat, scrambling back to where Noah's bunk lay, and suddenly Basch's weak and failing magicks were flooded with a wave of white: Penelo's powerful casting, wave upon wave as she Cured, Cured, Cured.

Basch's heart hammered. For all of Noah's mistakes and misdeeds—Penelo, pouring all she had into him, face tight and determined.

And in strode Ashe, eyes red, but no tears, not for this nor anything else.

She stood for a moment, watching the frantic scene, watching as Noah's pain-glazed eyes turned slowly to her. Watching Larsa's hands, Larsa's hands that now held the reins of power, fluttering over his dying guardian.

Basch, with no right to ask this thing of her, watched her close her eyes, her hand rising for a moment to clasp loosely in front of her chest. Her head lowered, and in the dim light Basch still caught her frown. When her eyes opened, they sparked with anger, her brows furrowed.

But she said: "Live, dog. Ivalice needs Larsa's strength, and Larsa needs yours. Live and reclaim your honour, be it the harder path."

And she lent her magick, too; Basch could feel it, harsh but healing, holding Noah together with Penelo. Almost, almost enough.

Almost.

They wouldn't make it, not like this. Tired, all of them; the battle with Vayne had drained them, and Noah's injuries were great and deep.

A growl—incredulous, frustrated—scraped out of the cockpit, and Basch felt the familiar dip of the Strahl going on autopilot.

And Vaan barrelled into the cabin. He stood there for a moment, silhouetted in the doorway, staring. At Larsa, at Basch. At Penelo, her hands hovering over Noah's chest, helping him breathe.

At Ashe, whose father and king Noah had killed. She stood stiff-backed and tense, but her hands were out and working, weaving curing magicks.

Basch had watched this play between them so many times, the one goading the other to greater acts of courage and honour through a backwards sort of pride, and again Vaan stood there, watching Ashe, and Basch's heart was in his throat.

Vaan's fists balled at his side. He bowed his head, too, unknowing echo of Ashe.

Basch would remember, later: though Penelo had turned, started to speak—"Vaan, come on, please"—

Vaan had already moved.

Vaan, their most powerful caster, and his white magicks flooded through Noah's body, indiscriminate but powerful.

Finally, powerful enough.

All of them there, healing, and it was a strange and quiet peace, a tense respite over the sick gurgle of Noah's breath.

Basch would remember, too: that was when Larsa had started to cry, when they thought that Noah might live after all. Silent tears, streaking down his dirty face, and Larsa not even noticing, his hands still moving: tear, mix, dab. His eyes darting around the cabin.

How clear and calm his voice sounded when he spoke.

"Captain Basch. You ordered the cease-fire as Gabranth."

Basch glanced up. Then down, at Noah, at Judge Magister Gabranth.

"Do you," Larsa continued, glancing around still, "have spare cloaks aboard? And—" a slight frown of calculation "—greaves, gauntlets, and a hauberk?"

Basch's mind raced, trying to keep up. "Aye, cloaks aplenty, and most likely the rest."

Larsa locked eyes with him. "When we land, throw one over Gabranth, and give him only to your most trusted physikers. Take his helm, don what armour can be found and fit in time; gauntlets and greaves at the least. And another cloak over that."

Ashe's eyes were flashing between them, lips parted in appreciation, and Basch's thoughts leapt ahead: never enough to stand close inspection, but from afar, from across an aerodrome hangar—

But Larsa had moved on, raced ahead of him. "Penelo, can you land?" Vaan, the most powerful caster, must stay, Basch thought, dizzy with the quicksilver speed of Larsa's strategizing. Penelo nodded, wove her hands to seal what spells she could. She scrambled away, and Basch felt the faint jerk of the autopilot turning off. Ashe made for the cabin, too, to call for the healers; Vaan's face tensed, sweating as he took on most of the burden.

Ashe returned; Basch tested the healing meld before breaking with it—with Vaan in, his own meager magicks were of little use. He jerked around the unsteady cabin, dumped the cloaks by the bunk, scrambled into what armour he could unassisted. He nearly fell over as the Strahl juddered to the ground, Penelo calling "Sorry, sorry!" over her shoulder. Basch threw the other cloak over Noah as the door seals hissed open, suppressing a faint shudder. Just keep moving.

Healers swarmed over them, and Noah was bundled out; Basch made to don the helm and follow when Larsa snatched his sleeve and pulled him back inside.

"A moment, Captain," and Larsa pushed him to sit on the bunk. His eyes darted around, settling on Vaan's dagger. He held out his hand. "Vaan, Captain, may I?" Understanding dawned on Vaan's face, along with the vestiges of a frown. But he handed over the dagger.

Basch gave a quick jerk of a nod, and Larsa took his hair and sliced through it, shearing it short. Imperfect, like the rest of his disguise (like the life of the man I replace), but some improvement. Basch jammed the helm onto his head for the moment, regardless.

And the last of those memories, the ones he would remember for years, the last thing before hours and hours of waiting and talking and politicking and more waiting. The last he would remember: Penelo grabbing Larsa and leading him gently to a corner of the cabin. "Your turn," she said quietly, and took a clean rag and wiped his face.

Larsa's expression. Baffled, first, for he had not realized his own tears. The briefest flash of annoyance, and, even briefer: the first childlike expression Basch had seen on his face, a spark of lost, wide-eyed fright. For that bare moment Basch had thought that Larsa might crumple right there in Penelo's arms.

But the moment passed, and Larsa was again the Emperor, and they were all trotting down the ramp into the light, and it was time.


________________________



They swept out of the aerodrome, and Vaan tried to focus instead on how this was the first time Ashe had done the sweeping thing and have it work, because people were throwing themselves out of her way, and no one was trying to arrest them, and Ashe was flinging orders all over the place like she was born to do it, and it made Vaan want to smile, even then, because it was better than thinking about that mangled thing the healers had taken away. So Vaan thought about Ashe instead, feeling the power just pouring off her— not magick but just as thick on his skin, just as incredible, because people looked at her, really looked. Vaan watched, trotting along with Penelo, as the orders flew and people went scurrying, and Basch clinking along trying hard to be invisible. But with Ashe and Larsa there— everyone looked at them, automatically, and the rest of them were just backdrop.

Vaan had wished, before, that people would see him that easily, instead of everyone's eyes always sliding over him, seeing whatever they expected or wanted or, worse: nothing at all.

He could feel himself falling for it, too, because he didn't realize until he was surrounded: Ondore was suddenly beside them, there are soon as he could be pried off his ship, and Al-Cid sliding in out of nowhere, and then they'd reached a room in one of the towers, the door rang shut, and Vaan was trapped in there with everyone who mattered right now.

Except Balthier and Fran, and his hands jerked into fists, and here came some more not-thinking.

He jerked out a chair instead, overstuffed and not matching any of the others in the room or the table or anything, and it all looked it had been thrown in here in a hurry, just like Vaan and the rest had been. Ashe sat across from him, ignoring him for Ondore. Penelo slid in beside Vaan, stared at him for a moment, and steepled her hands under her chin, pulling a stodgy-serious face so hard Vaan's lip twitched. His arms eased a little, falling to his sides, as Basch sat next to him, giving him an unreadable look. Larsa came last, talking quietly with Al-Cid, and claimed the other chair by Basch.

"Gentlemen," Al-Cid began, and then, with a flourish at Ashe (impassive) and Penelo (hands twitching up to her mouth, and stilled before they could be seen above the table): "Ladies. The war is over."

"Yes," Larsa said. "Let us forge a new peace. The Empire must not be allowed such ambitions again. The military has grown too strong, and the Senate weak. My brother Vayne dismissed the Senate for collusion in my father the Emperor's murder. I will revoke those charges, and reinstate the Senate."

Ondore cupped his hands over his cane. "The ranks of the Judges Magister have thinned." Yeah, Vaan thought. Just not enough. "Perhaps this will be the chance to break the power of the military in Archadia?"

Larsa nodded, all deliberate and decisive. "Yes. I will give the Senate back the powers it had before my father's reign."

"Ah, the Judges Magister," Al-Cid muttered. He looked at Basch. "Pardon me, but did you not give the order to cease fire as Judge Magister Gabranth?" At Basch's nod, he continued. "But this is... unfortunate. Gabranth is injured, no? It is not hard to see that he could not have issued that order."

Ondore tapped his cane on the ground, shifting his weight forward onto it. "The Senate must not find out that Larsa's guardian was not capable of seeing to his safety aboard the Strahl."

"A pirate ship," Ashe murmured. She looked up, and Vaan couldn't read her eyes, something that maybe could have been amusement any other day. "Larsa was alone with outlaws and renegades on a pirate ship."

Larsa grimaced. "The Senate believes still that I am too young. Or not young enough. I am never sure which."

"Wait a minute!" Penelo's voice rang across the table. "Are you saying that just because Larsa's young the peace might fall apart? Because he was with a bunch of pirates?"

"The Senate has ever been... doubtful of Lord Larsa's autonomy." Al-Cid put in, leaning back with a sardonic salute to Larsa, who accepted it with a nod and a small wry grin.

Assigning him a babysitter probably hadn't helped. Vaan swallowed that comment, listened to Larsa instead.

"The Senate will be displeased that the war is over, as will the military. They may look for any reason to invalidate my decision."

"Then they must not know that Gabranth was not at your side." Ondore's brows furrowed.

Basch's voice, when he spoke, was so quiet that it took Vaan a second to realize he was talking.

"Noah asked me to guard Larsa in his stead." Basch looked up, his hands upon Gabranth's helm. His hair was still messily shorn, and he looked— tired.

"Basch." Ashe's voice cut the air, in that way she had. She looked down at her hands for a moment, and Vaan remembered them weaving through the air, keeping Gabranth alive. His own hands twitched, but Ashe had looked up, folded her hands under the table. Her voice was low and intense. "You would leave my service for Gabranth."

Basch met her eyes (brave man), Gabranth's helm under his hands. "No, Your Majesty." And Vaan heard it that time, the capital letters there—Ashe's eyes widened, and Vaan realized that that was the first time she had been called that and no one could argue. "I serve Dalmasca first, and the good of Ivalice second. This peace must be preserved."

Ashe's brows drew down, her mouth tight. Vaan expected— one of her sharp comments, a command, maybe. But she closed her eyes, turned away for a moment, before meeting Basch's eyes again to say, "I will await your return to my service. General."

Vaan clamped down on the urge to whistle, and Basch bowed from where he sat.

"Ashe," Larsa said quietly. "Thank you."

Vaan watched, silently, this trade—they were dealing in people, in loyalties and allegiances and lives, and he wasn't sure if that made him angry or what, or if he was still mad about Gabranth or... if he was just feeling them all start to drift apart.

"Then it is settled," Ondore declared. "General Basch, you will be Gabranth?"

"Aye, Marquis. Until Noah recovers, when I will rejoin Ashe, and Noah will return to Larsa."

"My good General," Al-Cid interjected. "How badly is the Judge Magister injured?"

Basch's face rippled for a moment before steadying. "Badly," he said, all quiet and hoarse, and Vaan looked away.

"He nearly died," Ashe said flatly. "My healers say he will live, but he will not wake for days. They do not know when he will be well again." Her mouth pulled down tight at the corners, in a silent simmer of anger.

"But this will not do." Al-Cid's hand danced through the air, waving away their efforts. "Larsa must return to Archades as soon as we have a preliminary agreement here."

"I will go with him," Basch said, quiet and decisive. "To Archades."

This is when Vaan remembered that Basch never let go, and he sucked in a breath.

But Ashe only nodded, and Vaan could almost see it, the line of loyalty she held on him like a leash. She'd jerked it once, like bringing a dog to heel, and apparently that was enough.

"Then, General Basch, you must get Gabranth's armour as soon as possible." Ondore tapped his cane against the floor again.

"I will need squiring to do so quickly." Basch said it quietly, looking down at the helm under his hands, as if there was something there to see besides a stupidly elaborate bit of armour.

Larsa turned to Penelo. "Do you know how to put a man in full armour?"

Penelo bit her lip. "Sorry." Vaan had only seen her in the lighter brigandines, ever.

Fran would know.

Vaan's brows drew down, because Ashe would know, too. He ground his teeth, staring at her, because he knew she could suit up. But when she turned to look at him, she arched her brow, and Vaan realized: someone in this room. Someone here, someone here, living breathing and trustworthy, one of the tiny group in this room that was trading fates and loyalties around like trinkets, making Vaan want to punch things out of anger or sadness or being so damn proud. Someone here.

Someone who wouldn't blow the ruse.

And, well, maybe Ashe and the rest had let him come here, and trust him like that, and maybe she could look at him and decide he was useful, but she wouldn't ask, she would just expect, and—

Someone here. Someone who wouldn't blow the ruse. His teeth hurt from clenching so hard.

"I'll do it," he growled— and Ondore and Al-Cid blinked at him for a moment. But Larsa didn't, and Penelo didn't— and Basch didn't, just inclined his head in a nod of thanks, and maybe that was progress.

He sighed a little inside, and tried to listen to the rest, and tried not to think about the tingle in his hands that meant he had used way too much magick.


________________________



"Vaan," Penelo called softly, and Basch paused to wait, precious seconds. "I'm going to check on Migelo and Kytes and the rest, all right?"

"Yeah," Vaan answered. "I'll find you later."

She nodded and left, the exchange mercifully short— and unmercifully telling, and Basch's heart clenched at keeping Vaan from following Penelo to the only family left him. The necessities of peace as brutal in their way as those of war; Basch's gut clenched, at the hard set of Vaan's mouth, sullen and still coming to help. At Basch's own cowardice: too much to ask this of Vaan, and so forcing him to it anyway. Vaan fell in silently behind Basch as they traversed the palace complex, to the military quarters and the healers' annex.

The scene upon reaching Noah's room was a quiet mummery of horror: bloody bandages used and discarded in clinically precise piles, the concerted shuffle of the healers still attendant upon Noah, clever fingers and the feel of clever magicks in the air, blood still welling everywhere and the hint of the putrid smell of a gut wound, the glint of their precise instruments picking at his wounds; and, weaving unevenly through the room, over the quiet work of the healers and under the hiss that escaped Vaan upon reaching the door: Noah's breathing, wet and laboured in a sick, heaving gurgle.

Basch had seen dead men less pale.

They could not cast their powerful curing magicks on him, not yet— first to clean his wounds, clear his lungs, lest the Cures force healing around the dirt and leather and shattered fragments of bone trapped within the wounds. They had done healing and damage enough, aboard the Strahl; now the healers must undo that work before beginning theirs.

The healers had at least granted him sleep, and Basch realized that the last words Noah had heard had been Ashe's.

Vaan hovered beside Basch, and Basch could not read the look on his face— fascinated or repulsed, or just stiff, and it sat oddly on Vaan's expressive features.

Basch turned back to the intent flurry by the bed, drawn to watching it, heart thick in his throat. There were only three healers there— all Ashe had felt safe mustering, to bear witness to this. Her personal healers, once.

They were about to cut the cuirass away, to work on Noah's lungs.

"Hold," Basch said.

The healers glanced up at him, irritated; the one at the cuirass straps spoke. "We must get him out of the armour, quickly."

And Basch into it, just as quickly. "Spare the straps, if you can. If—" his eyes darted across Noah's body, broken and bleeding still "—if it does him no further harm."

The healer gave him a hard look for a moment, unimpressed. The necessities of peace... Then nodded, shortly, turning it into a jerk of his head towards the bed. "Help, then, if you'd have this done so quick."

Basch tore off his gauntlets, stepped in, put his hands where healers told him, turned his strength to the task of bending the metal until it popped out again and brought relief and slack; and he could not tell if it was better to think of this as just another battlefield injury or as Noah, Noah's blood and Noah's breath and Noah's life.

His stomach congealed, at the thought.

He glanced up, then, as the cuirass came free, at Vaan, to ask assistance— and swallowed the request: Vaan still rooted near the door, that same unreadable look on his face. Vaan was staring, and not at Basch.

Basch glanced down: a mess of a man, but surely not the worst Vaan had seen— the corpses below Nalbina, rotting with the Mimics picking at their flesh; the carnage at Bur-Omisace bleeding into the rain; Vayne at his last.

And none of them, Basch realized, had been Noah.

The healer thrust the cuirass at him, and they crowded him out again, his help not needed for the smaller pieces.

Basch glanced at the cuirass in his hands: it should have been beautiful. It still was, in a sick strange manner, the rich wet glint of blood pooling in the delicate scrollwork, red on gold on silver.

Basch's gorge rose as he thought of donning the thing.

A quick cleaning at least; armour this bloody would be as damning as no armour at all.

He glanced at Vaan once more, and quickly away. His heart felt tight at the wasted time, but it was beyond him to ask Vaan's help in this. He set to work, cleaning as the healers handed him each piece: quick, efficient wipes; only enough to make each presentable, noting for later where it would need to be hammered, buffed, polished. A more thorough cleaning, later, and tend to it with clove oil, and not his brother's blood.

It should have been calming, this routine task.

The rag came away redder and redder, and Basch's throat grew thick, the acid taste crawling up into his mouth.

The leathers were ruined. Basch would have to acquire his own set. Later, and a cold tremor rippled down his arms as he considered himself, donning bits of Noah's clothes, of Noah's life, of Noah; assembling a costume piece by piece and watching Noah's face whiten and grow waxy.

Basch set down the couters, last to be cleaned.

He had reached the limits of what he could spare Vaan; were it only a question of fit and comfort— but he had cleaned the armour alone, and slower for it; and now for the sake of haste...

"Vaan," he called quietly.

Vaan jerked, and turned quickly away from the bed. "Yeah," he said.

"It's ready."

"Yeah," Vaan said again, and Basch did not comment on his distraction.

Basch wanted to face the bed, watch the healers work.

But he looked at Vaan, and faced away.

He pulled off the hauberk, and as he felt the cuirass slide on in its stead, he was glad his gambeson was dark. It had been a very hasty cleaning.

Basch stood quietly as Vaan strapped him in, cuirass and pauldrons and couters, cuisses and poleyns and greaves, and almost every piece leaving a sticky feeling in his throat as he saw the blood in the joints and rivets and scrollwork, where he had not had time to clean.

And Noah lay behind them, his breathing still rasped and laboured.

Vaan knelt beside Basch, adjusting the greaves, back to the bed.

Basch waited until he could meet Vaan's eyes before saying, "Thank you." For everything.

It was not his place to ask why.

Vaan nodded, shortly.

They stood for a moment, watching and not-watching, before Basch donned the helm.

The darkness inside it swallowed him for a moment, and the smell: Noah's sweat and fear and anger, metal and oil and the memory of how Nalbina's dim light had never reached inside this twisted thing.

The necessities of peace. The necessities of haste.

He left Vaan there, staring, with the healers and their glinting instruments, with Noah's rasping breath, with the bloodied rags, his heart pounding out his footsteps as he hurried down the hall. To Larsa.


________________________



Basch clanked out, and Vaan's eyes were pulled towards the man in the bed.

He looked... pathetic.

He looked like Reks had, lost and dying.

Gabranth, with the best healers in Dalmasca, and Balthier and Fran alone out there somewhere. Vaan ground his teeth.

Yeah, well.

At least there was something he could do about that.

The nearest Moogling station still took too long to reach, and Migelo was gone when he reached the store. Penelo was there, heard him come in, and turned, her arms full of jars and phials and philtres. "Vaan! Migelo's all right, and he said Kytes and everyone else—"

Not everyone. "Come on, Penelo. We're looking for Balthier and Fran."

Her eyes glinted. "Yes! This is for them, hold on a second!" She dumped her armful into a bag, and dashed to the back, and Vaan was relieved, because at least Penelo cared and remembered and was doing something. She came back with another bag. "I asked Migelo for some food, too, just in case. Let's go!"

They trotted towards the aerodrome, boarded the Strahl, and took off for the crash site.

They flew above the twisted wreckage, and Penelo covered her mouth with her hand. Vaan's heart sank, and his anger rose up to replace it.

The Bahamut lay beneath them, twisted claws of torn metal reaching between the ruined rings, glossairs shattered and sparkling in the desert sands like sharp hidden water-springs.

And there was no sign of anything living.

But Balthier would survive. He had to. He was Balthier. And he had Fran with him.

Vaan set the Strahl down on the shard-scattered sands. The Bahamut looked huge from down there, like a twisted man-made crag.

They called and called, and crawled and climbed and went as far down the torn hallways as they could. They saw things there: twisted corpses, and dead mastiffs lying broken beside their masters.

They heard nothing.

Penelo left her bags of food and medicines there, by the side facing Rabanastre, and there was nothing else they could do.

Vaan was silent on the flight back, lips tight.

"They'll be all right," Penelo whispered. "They'll make it."

Vaan's hands tightened on the controls, but the Strahl flew them safe and steady home.


________________________



The snickt of the scissors slid by his ear, cold. Basch held still, letting Penelo smooth his hair down, inspect it, trim again.

His eye was drawn to the bed where Noah lay, unconscious still. It gave him a sick uneasy feeling in his gut, seeing Noah there, his presence crowding the room, and yet less than a ghost's. He remembered the cloak thrown over Noah like a shroud; this was better only by a little. He watched the shallow rise and stuttering fall of Noah's chest out of the corner of his eye, and tried not to flinch at the cold touch of steel against his skin.

Cosmetics, then, to cover the scar, and Penelo's gentle dabbing touch; Basch closed his eyes against the sticky powders. Erasing Noah's deeds. Erasing Basch's past.

He concentrated on learning the feel of it; memorizing for when he must do this himself.

"There," Penelo pronounced. She picked up the polished brass mirror for him to see.

A face only half-familiar stared back at him.

He did not look much like Noah. Aye, the hair was the same; Penelo had done a fine job of it. But Basch glanced back and forth between Noah's hollow cheeks and blue-bruised eyes, and his own reflection, and he put the mirror down.

"Thank you."

Penelo was watching Noah, too. "I'm sure he'll look better soon. The healers say he should wake up any day now, right?" Penelo stared for a few seconds more, before giving herself a small shake. She turned to Basch with a small smile. "I have to go dance. Would you like to come see?"

He looked at her, young, still full of dreams unbroken, moving on and taking up old routines. Living. Not putting their journey behind her so much as taking it in and going onwards, like the story never ended. And it hadn't, not for them—so much still left to do...

His gaze travelled slowly back to the wraith in the bed, and his fingers trailed absently over the helm he held in his lap.

"I'm sorry, Penelo. I cannot today."

"Well, any time, all right? And—" she cuffed him lightly, on the shoulder. "Don't run yourself to bits, okay?"

She was gone before he found words to reply, taking her implements with her.

He sat in the chair still, in the empty room that was too full with the both of them in it.

Basch pulled off the cloth draped across him to catch the hair, soft slither of fabric against fine, oiled metal. He had cleaned the armour, two nights before. It had taken him hours, though he had not realized at the time, how his hands would slow in the automatic circular motions as his mind drifted away from the beautiful scrollwork with the blood in the cracks and back down corridors of ages, to days when they were young soldiers, buffing their arms before a battle for their home. He would come to himself, distracted by a cold simmer in his veins: anger, perhaps, or longing for things long lost, or simple confusion.

He had traded sleep for those hours, and still unsure how much a fool for the bargain.

But he wore Gabranth's armour still; no time to take it off and suit up again for a simple haircut. They had snatched the chance to fix Larsa's hasty shearing upon finding a spare hour after meeting the new ambassadors from Rozzaria.

Even now, he should be going back. Preparing for the next meetings, assembling the next reports, attending upon Lord Larsa.

Basch ran his hand over the helm.

The irony of it would not undo him, but he yet wanted to huff his breath out in something that would bear no relation to a laugh. He remembered the darkness within this helm from the other side, watching in disbelief and deciding it must be hollow inside after all. He felt like he should be less at ease with himself, but he knew the truth for what it was: the same day that broke Noah was the day that saw Basch's fulfilment. For everything that hadn't happened—Landis, Nalbina, Rasler—that day he was healed, and Noah undone.

Basch had wondered if it would be different were Noah in Archades, recovering there under the ministrations of the Imperial healers. His presence haunted Basch here, dogging every ringing step in this armour— or Basch haunted him, thoughts ever turning to this room, the man in this bed. He could no longer tell. Ghosts, all of them, reliving endlessly the past, far from their long-ago homes, and changed near beyond recognition.

He thought he could see it still, under the bones of Noah's face, under the skin, maybe if his eyes were open: that boy he had sparred with, partner in crime and companion in spirit, contrary and diverging, sometimes the last company he wanted and always the only company he needed.

And now...

Basch had forgiven Noah in his heart the moment Noah had chosen Larsa over Vayne.

It would never be enough, for either of them.

Nalbina would lie forever between them, forever that darkness within this twisted helm, and Basch would bear those scars—his face, his neck, his hands, and places darker than he wished to see—forever.

And to Noah they would not be scars, he knew, but wounds that bled endlessly. It would not be enough. But in that choice, Basch had known that his brother had returned, that there was something of Noah in this Gabranth still, that somewhere maybe they could find a way to be again.

It was the finding that confused him. He wished he could summon anger, something pure and hot, some clean burn to wash away the last putrid infection on these wounds. And perhaps he was angry after all, and not merely tired. He could no longer tell— the cold light of that rage had lit him from within for years, and it felt more like the strain that never left his shoulders than something that could be banished with simple vengeance, nor any amount of words.

And for all that, he sat here still, staring at thing that used to be his brother, and, someday, might be again.

Basch closed his eyes.

He donned the helm. It was time for Gabranth to do his work.


________________________



Gabranth woke alone.

When he crawled back to wakefulness, three sensations scrabbled into his awareness. The pain. The drugs. And how naked he felt, in unfamiliar surroundings without his armour.

The drugs dragged at his thoughts; ideas bubbled up slow and viscous in disconnected fragments. He stared blankly around the room, not understanding.

Then a healer in unfamiliar robes appeared, leaned over him, and Gabranth realized, muzzily, that he must be in Rabanastre.

Alive.

He closed his eyes against the healer's insistent queries.

Live, dog. Live and reclaim your honour.

Hard to hear around that, and the healer made no sense, garbled words and logic spattered everywhere, a slow drip of endless question marks.

Then, a voice that pulled him back to awareness— would have woken him anywhere.

"Noah. You're awake." A face drifted into view— not right for the voice, and Gabranth's brows pinched together in confusion. He tried to lift a hand, to touch his hair, his brow.

"Don't," Basch said, stopping the motion before Gabranth fully registered how much that aborted movement had hurt. Basch laid Gabranth's hand back on the bed, and took his own quickly away. "It is not you. I cut my hair, covered my scar. I... I am protecting Larsa. As you requested."

Gabranth blinked. "Larsa..." A croak; never from his own throat, that...

"I'm sorry, Noah. He cannot visit you; he cannot be seen here." A dull clink as Basch fished in a belt pouch, and the sound echoed dully in Gabranth's ears, the opposite of the hollow ring it should be, from the inside, and the smell of metal and clove oil sighing strange across him. "He gave me this for you."

Basch closed Gabranth's fingers around a potion packet. Gabranth nodded absently at Basch's words, distracted by the feel of the packet crinkling in his palm, the memory of Larsa using such on him, white gloves at his lips with the bitter mixture...

Basch was still talking, Gabranth realized.

"He is reinstating the Senate, and we must not let word reach them that it was not you who issued the cease-fire."

"Reinstating..." Gabranth's voice came out parched and slow. He felt around for the idea that tugged at him through the mire of narcotics. The Senators... the peace... He closed his eyes, trying to remember. "Tell Larsa... Ladare invested in Draklor... Aldebrand... his glassworks... access to the Sandsea..." There was more; he couldn't remember, not past the buzz of Basch's presence and live dog, live and the crinkle of the potion packet between his fingers, a dripping whiteness at the edge of sight and all the sounds going hollow...

He could see Basch's throat work for a second, weird slide of shadows distracting. "I will tell him. Noah, you must rest."

True. Perhaps.

Perhaps not. There were no certainties right now, as Basch loomed dark over his bedside in borrowed armour that smelled wrong, the room too white behind him.

One truth, perhaps. He rubbed his fingers across the potion packet, sharp crinkle amidst the soft slow drift of his senses.

One truth, two white-gloved hands, live, dog, and the eyes of a true orphan— orphans and stray dogs the lot of them, but not all without a blood-bound soul left them in the world, however incomprehensible...

Gabranth's lids fluttered against the encroaching grey, the healer's indistinct face hovering over him again before Basch shook his head and shooed the man away, and then it was the slow grey drifting again, and the pain.


________________________



It felt quite inadequate to send his greetings and well-wishes through Basch, a few words and a potion packet at a time, but Emperor-Presumptive Larsa Solidor had little reason to visit "Captain Basch fon Ronsenburg" in his convalescence.

Nor to send him missives that said little of substance besides get better or I require your services or some better way of putting it. Like simply, thank you.

So Larsa heaved a small sigh, and crumpled up the note before he got any farther than From Larsa Ferrinas Solidor, and considered the appeal of the written word as compared to secondhand messages from another's lips.

Another time. Gabranth would recover soon; in this Larsa had to believe.


________________________



With Noah's armour shielding their deceit, they met now openly: used the council chambers and not abandoned tower rooms; invited dignitaries, advisers, representatives.

And Basch ever at Larsa's side.

It had begun the very day they'd landed: a public proclamation of the peace, and exchange of courtesies between Ashe and Larsa and Al-Cid, in the great open square of Rabanastre, with Basch hovering behind. Sweating in the armour, and his sweat mixing with the blood still slicking the inside.

With Noah's waking, it changed.

For with Noah's breathless, anguished attempt to help, Basch realized his own shortcomings in the role.

He knew nothing of Noah's work.

It sat strangely with him, realizing that for all the things that bound them... Basch could not even begin to truly fill his brother's place.

He paced his room in Larsa's suite that night, thinking.

Finally, he knocked upon the door that connected his room to Larsa's; his on the outside and Larsa's room deep within the suite, protected by thick walls and Basch's presence. It was the room given a ranking bodyguard; Noah's duties multiplied in his head at the thought.

"Enter," Larsa called through the door.

Basch came in, and shut the door behind him— their private signal.

Larsa looked up from his desk at that, and set down his pen, and Basch had his complete and unsettling attention. "What is it?"

"I spoke with Noah today, and gave him your message."

"My thanks." A slight tilt of the head, waiting for what had prompted Basch's visit.

"I told him of your plans and he— he tried to help. He named Senators he thought we must watch. Ladare, and Aldebrand."

Larsa frowned. "I know the men."

"And I do not." Basch took a long breath in. "Larsa, I must ask you—" a strange urge to kneel, and Basch was uncomfortably aware of the armour, weighing him down as if encouraging the thought.

He swallowed, and shook it aside.

"Teach me."

Larsa sat up.

"Teach me about Archades. About Noah's position. I must know these things, to play my role in negotiations. And..." Basch hesitated, but of all people Larsa needed and deserved the truth. "Noah recovers slowly. It may become necessary that I accompany you to Archades. It... may become necessary that I do so for longer than we thought. Long enough to need to do Noah's work."

Larsa nodded, and Basch nearly missed the fleeting trace of worry. "You must ask him of the details, once he is well enough. But of the Senate and of Archades—" his gaze focused, the disconcerting intensity of a born ruler, disorienting in that young face. "Let us begin tonight. Delegations arrive soon."

"Yes. The Senate first. Noah's words worry me."

Basch had a rudimentary knowledge of Archadian politics, and that tainted by the war and the changes of Gramis's lifetime. Larsa— Larsa's knowledge was encyclopaedic.

"So the Senate must ratify treaties?" Basch interrupted at one point, adjusting his preconceptions. "A Dalmascan ruler can accept terms by decree, though most bow to the council's wishes out of courtesy."

Larsa's eyes were alight; a passion, this. "The Senate represents the interests of the people, and the Emperor those of the state. It is a balance. One my brother broke."

"Then what of the Senators Noah named? He said—" Basch closed his eyes, remembering, "Ladare invested in Draklor, and Aldebrand had a glassworks."

Larsa grimaced. "Personal interests influence the Senators in their duties."

"Then Ladare and Aldebrand will oppose the treaty?"

Larsa's grimace deepened, and grew wry. "It has become traditional to pursue such affairs in a more discreet manner. And such involvements are generally not known. It is considered... impolitic for a Senator to display outside interests openly."

"Noah's territory, then."

"Yes."

They were silent a moment, and Basch wondered if Larsa was thinking the same as he: how large a gap Noah left in the world. His world. Their world.

Such realizations—how little Basch knew of Noah's life these past years, how large Noah's role. He had thought he understood Noah, as an enemy at least, as someone who could be predicted and planned around. Even in Nalbina, even then, near-blind with rage, even then there was a sick understanding in it: somewhere, sides had changed, but maybe they sought the same things still, at cross-purposes. Such a faithful hound, to cling so to a fallen kingdom. And yet— You threw away our homeland. Both of them clinging, still, to fallen countries, fallen dreams.

Almost, almost more than Nalbina; these things he never knew about the commonplace customs of Noah's life, each one begged of Basch a question: when had they grown so close again, that Basch would feel the lack?

Basch cleared his throat into the silence. "Tomorrow, then. Tomorrow, we can speak of Noah and the Ninth Division."

Larsa started a little; Basch pretended not to notice, and marked it for himself: it was not he alone, lost in thoughts of a position unfilled, of a ward who must instead advise his guardian, of a broken man in an empty room.


________________________



The next time Gabranth woke, it was not Basch who came.

He dragged his eyes open. His thoughts swam slowly together, reassembling themselves after his hazy, painful sleep.

And he saw: Vaan, leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed before him, staring out into the hall.

He could make no sense of himself at this. His feelings floated, disconnected atop a sea of pain and... shame. Live, dog. Live and reclaim your honour. Vaan had said nothing to him, but he remembered seeing Vaan's face, how it had echoed Ashe's. Ashe, if he were any judge of her, would not come to him so, now or ever.

But here was Vaan, haunting his room. Boy, he thought muzzily, I understand no better than you do.

Gabranth had not thought he had made a sound, but Vaan turned to face him regardless, countenance stiff.

They stared at each other for a time, random thoughts ringing slow explosions in Gabranth's head. Thanks and apologies were beyond inadequate, and he felt lost, sinking in a sea of debt and confusion.

"My brother died in this building," Vaan finally ground out.

"I'm sorry." Inadequate. Painfully inadequate. And nothing else for him to say.

"Yeah, well. 'Sorry' doesn't fix anything does it?"

"No," Gabranth said quietly, watching Vaan. He remembered Reks, and his hazy thoughts coalesced around the memory of that face, flooding his vision for a moment, overwhelming Vaan's presence right there before him and Gabranth wanted to claw it this, at this sinking into the past, at these things he could never fix or change; at Reks, Vayne, King Raminas, Basch, Dalmasca, Landis, and everything else that fell apart when he touched it.

Stay away, boy. Come no closer, or I will destroy you, too.

Vaan, there, in front of him, hateful and tense, and still he faded to one he had destroyed already, Reks' betrayed eyes staring at him from Vaan's face.

"You killed the king, too. You made all this happen to Dalmasca."

"Yes," Gabranth breathed, the word scraping out of his throat automatically. What could he deny this boy, in the end?

Vaan's head tipped back against the doorframe; his eyes slid closed. "I really," he began, swallowing, and Gabranth watched the painful slide of his throat, the lines tightening his mouth, before he continued, "really hate you."

It was only fair, and only expected, and in this boy, in Basch, in Larsa, lay Gabranth's only hopes of honour. Forgiveness, atonement, a place where he could be of some use and worth; and they slipped through his fingers, for his faults, his deeds, the weakness of his body.

Gabranth closed his eyes. There was nothing he could say.

His eyes flew open again at the sound of an angry thunk: Vaan had gone, and the rough wall stained with red where Vaan had torn open a knuckle.


________________________



Vaan threw his pack together, tossing in packets of potion powders, remedy gels, ration bars "donated" by the army, not that he would eat them as anything but a last resort. His hand brushed the two esper glyphs, and he felt a thread of their questing thoughts, seeking light and freedom and to walk the earth once more, clutching at the reality of his life and whispering, whispering: What darkness festers in these burning rifts, oh shall I flood these riven wastes and wash with sorrow all your toil; and: oh let us see oh let us see, what sin is not forgiven here, for we are all corrupt and lost. He twitched his fingers away as they pulled at his most recent memories, peered at his encounter with Gabranth.

Quiet, you. He doubted Ashe had this much trouble with Belias. Figures he'd get the chatty ones. Although maybe Balthier's Shemhazai might whisper to him, too. He hadn't taken another, and Vaan got the impression he hadn't wanted an esper in the first place. Fran carried three, and seemed serene with it, her eyes going far away sometimes, as when she felt for the currents in the Mist.

He wished the stupid things could be useful to them now. Ashe had sent a company to search for them, for some sign.

Nothing.

Stupid espers. Useless outside a fight, and disturbing. Basch's Chaos made Vaan uneasy, and he was glad that had not been his.

But the glyphs went in the pack, Famfrit and Mateus both, and the pack went on his shoulder, and his feet hit the paving stones. The trip to the Sandsea was made short by the Moogling, and so Vaan was still fuming by the time he reached the bulletin board to stare at the posted bills.

Lower ranks, mostly. He wanted a bit of fight, but something fast, something now, not one of Montblanc's lengthy excursions. Something solid he could beat on for a while. Something strong and fast and dangerous.

He realized he'd been staring at the bills for minutes without seeing them, absently rereading the same one five times and not remembering a thing about it. He scowled, and made to snatch one at random when a hand slapped on his shoulder.

"Ah, Vaan!" Tomaj's voice rang out as Vaan tried to suppress his startled jerk. "A long time since last you came!"

"Yeah, sorry, Tomaj. I've been—" in the Empire? held prisoner? arguing with Occuria? saving the world? saving bastards who didn't deserve it? "—busy."

"So I hear! Clan Centurio has prospered since I recruited you."

"Oh. Yeah, I guess we ran into a few marks on the way."

"Looking for another, by any chance?"

"... Yeah. I'm going alone."

"I have the perfect tip for you, then. A rogue Saurian in the northern reaches of the Estersand, beyond the Broken Sands— think you can take her?"

"Sounds perfect." Big, mean, dangerous, isolated. Great. His hand tightened around his pack, and Mateus sang in his head.

"Excellent, Vaan. The poster is a friend, gave me custody of the bounty. I'll stand you a round when you come back for it."

"Sure, thanks." He nodded absently, taking the bill.

His head still buzzed, despite Tomaj's interference, and when he reached the Strahl he only realized once he was in the air that he'd gone through all the flight checks and takeoff routines without an ounce of attention. He smiled sourly. Balthier would be proud at how automatic flying had become.

Vaan's stomach sank like a sick thing at the thought, and he jerked the Strahl slightly east, to pass over the Bahamut one more time. Even after Ashe had tried. He flew low, weaving between the broken teeth of the sky fortress.

Nothing.

He could see where Ashe's crews had passed over: the footprints of an entire company dotted the sands, and some of the slagged pieces had been broken off and hauled away, revealing twisted, crushed corridors.

Still, nothing.

His grip tightened around the controls.

It was not a long flight to the mark's last sighting, and still too long for Vaan.

He reached the broken sandy hills, aiming for a pocket canyon he thought a likely hideout for a big predator. It was a hidden little gorge in an out-of-the-way corner, by a flatter stretch of sands where smaller animals often went to forage. Not even the Strahl would fit in the canyon; he planned to land her at the farther mouth, beyond a bend. A good place to sneak up on the mark.

Vaan reached the lip of the canyon, and stared.

This was where the mark was supposed to be found but... really?

The canyon walls tilted in, and he couldn't see the wider bottom under the overhangs from the air, but he could see enough. The walls of the canyon had great chunks taken out and scattered as rubble on the floor—huge claws, maybe, or powerful hind legs, big jaws? And the floor was scoured, sand piled in odd places and the rest bare rock, craggy and treacherous.

He could call it off right now. Mark not as billed; Clan laws allowed a default then. Or he could nab the mark and demand a higher bounty for it.

Vaan glanced at the blasted canyon. He thought of Balthier, and Fran, and Reks, and that room in the healer's compound. His hand crept to his pack, fingering the esper sigils through the cloth.

He could take it; with two espers and all this pointless anger that no one would listen to.

He landed the Strahl as planned, and wound his way silently through the canyon, sword out, pack on his back and ready for use.

He paused at the sharp bend, breathing through his mouth and grateful that the wind tunnelled towards him from the wider end.

He could hear her now: the dry skritch of giant claws on sandy rock, and the vague mumble of a dissatisfied predator.

Vaan risked a peek around the bend, and there she was, and she was huge, even for a Saurian— but not that big, not big enough to bust up the whole canyon like that. She was under an overhang, scrabbling in one of the holes right now, digging at it with her foreclaws, seeming annoyed with the state of her hideout.

Was she one of those beasts that went into a berserker rage? Had she torn up the canyon in such a state?

...Maybe.

He could still take her.

He edged back around the corner, and took a moment for some serious green magicks, feeling his strength swell and the protective shields fall in place around him. He felt his heart start to buzz as he cast Haste on himself, and there it came, that tingle in his limbs, and this was going to be good, this was going to be exactly what he needed.

Then he took his esper sigils out of his pack, popping them into slots on his belt, ready at a moment's notice.

He would rather work with sword and hands and sweat today. But he wasn't stupid.

Vaan checked her position again, to be sure.

Then he flung an Aero at the thing; Saurians were weak to wind and he figured this one for it, too, and then he was out into the storm he'd caused, flurries of sand particles bouncing off his Shell and Protect so he could see, and while the thing was still clawing at its eyes he was on it, hacking at the tail and racing up its back to get at its vulnerable neck.

It twisted, that deceptive sun-drenched speed of a reptile, and Vaan leapt off having only nicked its neck. He landed on the jagged rock floor, slipping on the not-enough-sand spilled over it; but he rolled, ignoring the smaller cuts and bruises, and came up between the thing's legs, slicing at its belly before dropping to roll again, away away away.

The thing was pissed.

Vaan felt the grin stuck on his face, and he wanted to laugh as he dodged away, heart thud-thudding all crazy with the Haste and the Bubble and the sword hilt hot and solid in his hands, sun warm on his back and the sand-blizzard still going; chaos everywhere, and the anger flushing through him directed at this monster, and the sword in his hand to fix it all.

The Saurian was thrashing now, blinded by the sands Vaan's Aero had kicked up, bleeding from the shallow cut on its belly. Which made it dangerous, and Vaan jumped the wild sweep of a tail, skidding over the sand again when he landed, the scrape of his boots alerting the monster and it lunged, wild and a little to his right, but Vaan still had to twist to get out of the way. Thick fire erupted up his left arm as a foreclaw scored him, and he danced away, breath hot and fast and thrilling, let the thing stumble to the end of its lunge and there, right there and then as it tried to recover: he flashed in for its ankles, took a two-handed grip on his sabre and slashed, and there went the thing's right ankle; he heard the tendon snap even over the dying howl of his sandstorm.

The Saurian screeched, mad as anything and hurting, and this was the part Vaan would never get used to.

He killed it quickly, having lamed it. Immobilized it, now that it was weak, and cut its throat, and stood there panting.

There was an empty feeling in his stomach, and for all that it felt like it might try to crawl up his throat.

Vaan scowled, and ran a Cure across his arms. A jerk of annoyance as he realized it had also fixed the knuckle he'd torn in Gabranth's room.

Then he stared at the carcass.

Plenty to poach for the bazaar, but it looked sad, lying there in its ruined den.

He went to it, nauseously relishing the grisly task: claws, fore and aft; the best parts of the hide; the rows of fearsome teeth; and he split the great thighs to get at the enormous tyrant bones there.

And in the end, it looked pathetic. Broken.

His stomach lurched.

He blew out his breath, and stared at the sky for a moment.

Then he pushed the remains together, and called down the fires.

Firaga, Firaga, Firaga, the hottest fires he had, and he couldn't watch it burn after all.

He was using up his magicks pretty quickly. But he still had enough to cast a Float on his bundled bounty, and he pushed the thing through the air all the way back to the Strahl— a lot easier than dragging. A trick he had learned from Fran.

He checked the Bahamut one more time on the way back.

Nothing.

His blood still ran buzzed after he had presented his haul at the Muthru Bazaar, keeping the receipt to show for the mark. The hot burn of his anger had dimmed to a slow dark thick oil in his veins, simmering and unsatisfying and not better at all.

Vaan remembered Tomaj's offer. A drink sounded really, really good.



________________________




( Part Two )


________________________

  • 1
Oh. My. God.

I could talk about the feel - desperate, emotional, gut-wrenching. Or the pacing - the reader's sense that time is slipping away and everything happening at once, building to the foregone conclusion that Basch and Noah are trading lives for a longer time than they might be able to bear. I could talk about characterization - spot-on perfect, each character with a distinctive voice that makes this a full-on immersive experience. Or the plotting - exciting and intricate and all the fraught details accounted for.

But really, I am without words. I love this. Thank you so much for posting, and I'm chained to the computer until I read the rest!

Wow um! Thank you so much! I was very nervous about this whole story, because of the new fandom, and just how convoluted XII canon is without me meddling to make it worse, and I'd never tried something this complicated before, even in my home fandoms. I really, really appreciate your feedback on this!

Anyway, um! Just. Thank you so much. I was nervous especially about my grasp on the characters/voices and mood here, so hearing back about that is so awesome =D

HOLY SHIT IRA YOU ARE AMAZING. I HAVEN'T EVEN READ IT YET BUT YOU ARE SO 100% RAD THERE ARE NO WORDS. I'LL BE BACK IN A FEW HOURS TO TELL YOU HOW I REALLY FEEL.

I am going to cry because I haven't finished the game and don't want to spoil myself which means I can't read it because I don't know who all these people ARE but oh dear GOD your opening paragraph is lovely. Totally tactile visceral experience. <3

Wow uh! XD

I am so flattered that you liked just the first paragraph enough to comment! XD

Although, uh, if you haven't finished the game then, yeah, I would warn you far, far away from this story because it has spoilers coming out its pores. However, it's also not going anywhere anytime soon, so whenever you finish the game, feel free to read!

Out of curiousity, how far into the game are you?

Also, um, ps, seriously, your mini-doujin is so awesome >.>

[bookmarks for later reading!]

I'm a horrible game player... 8 is just about the only one I've actually *finished*. On 12... lessee... I've gotten the entire party together and defeated the first judge and I was going to go level for awhile and ran into a wall of the side quests kicking me to the curb. x_x I got tired of everyone dying and wandered away to play non-fatal things. =P I'd probably have to start over at this point.

heeee! Thank you so much. ^_^ You're really making me want to do more with it.

FF12 is actually, I think, one of those games where it's really easy to get (figuratively) lost, forget what you're supposed to be doing, and lose track of the plot. I'm not sure why, but my personal theory includes the seamless battles -- in all other FF games, when you went on a levelling spree or where just going from one place to another, there would be a battle transition (screen change, music, etc), battle, victory music, and then you kind of go "well that's over, now what was I doing?" So it's like you'd remind yourself of what you were supposed to be doing after every battle, whereas in FF12 you an just kind of run around and get lost in killing things.

And also there is the fact that FF12's storyline gets kind of too epic for its own good >.>

But then I myself am terrible at finishing games so maybe I just have a short attention span XD

As for your doujin -- judging by the comments on it, I'm sure I speak for many, many folks when I say: YES PLEASE.

Erhmm...
This is a very well written and different story.
I'm never seen this pairing at all.
It sucks so much I got into the ff12 fandom 5 years too late....

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(Anonymous)
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