“I never really wanted to be Emperor,” says Larsa.
“Ha,” Penelo replies, tossing an embroidered pillow at him. They are sprawled across the grandiose cushioned piece of furniture Larsa calls his reclining ottoman ; Penelo still refuses to call it by its proper name, even after years of reclining upon it. “You’ve always wanted to be Emperor. You’ve been Emperor since before you were born, Larsa.”
“Ah,” he says, rolling over and propping himself up on one elbow to look at her. Larsa is eighteen, and taller than she, and tomorrow the entire nation - much of Ivalice, in fact - will celebrate Larsa reaching his majority. “I accepted it early, yes; and having accepted it, I wanted to both do good and do well; but it wasn’t a dream of mine.”
Penelo shrugs awkwardly, sprawled on her stomach and propped up on her elbows; her fingers are idly tracing out the beaded pattern on a gloriously burgundy pillow. “I guess it wouldn’t be,” she says gently, remembering Larsa is the youngest. She doesn’t think of him as young any more, with his dark hair falling into his face from the queue he wears down his back, and his dark eyes taking her in: she hasn’t thought of him as young for years. That one has an ancient soul, Fran had said once, and Penelo has never quite forgotten it.
It has been six years, since the flames of the Bahamut; six years since Larsa announced himself as the Imperial Commander and helped stop a war. Penelo passed her majority a few years ago as she wanted: with very little fanfare; she wonders whether Larsa would have liked the same.
She clutches the pillow in her arms and flops her face down into it, exhaling, ignoring the cold press of the tiny seed beads into her cheek. This may be the last time they have time to recline on the ridiculous ottoman, to throw ornamental cushionry and roll around on thickly piled rugs: for the Emperor to reach his majority means he is now Emperor in truth, and none might argue his fitness for the role. Not that many had, during this six years, for Larsa is an old soul with the perception of a grown man and the finesse of a many-times-grandfather - but tomorrow truly marks the day it becomes official, with Larsa’s name wrote into the ancient tomes of Archadia.
It’s this she fears, some small part of her: that the Emperor, having obtained his majority, will no longer have time to waste hours debating politics and the arts and ceremonial trappings while reclining across the cushions; a smaller part thinks, that the Emperor will no longer be allowed to spend his time with a young woman of no rank, and all of the ornamental cushions in this room will gather dust, just like the friendship that now stands on the brink of her world..
“Penelo,” Larsa says, and she can hear him roll towards her; he pokes her in the arm, and then, in the side below her ribs, which makes her giggle. She peers up at him under her arm; he is smiling, but his dark eyes are unwontedly serious, and Penelo thinks, here it comes. “We might as well talk about it,” he suggests, and she rolls onto her side to face him. His chin has grown sharp, his cheekbones striking; it has been hard to look at him lately.
“I guess,” she says reluctantly, her mouth twisting in a smile despite herself. “Am I that easy to read?”
Larsa’s mouth quirks in response, the smirk turning gentle. “Not to many,” he says lightly, and adds, “but a book, to me.” Her heart jumps, one startled beat.
“I think I’m more worried about it than you are,” Penelo points out, swallowing. “You and your - your calm and your seriousness, and you’re used to this kind of thing. I’m the one having nightmares about some kind of assassination attempt, or a coup, or an explosion, or--”
Larsa chuckles, deep and comforting. “Your worry flatters me,” he says, in that way he turns a courtly phrase into the kind of compliment that skitters across her cheeks in a blush, “but is not necessary. Or,” and now he looks a bit nervous - or is she imagining things? She would like to think she reads Larsa better than most, but his face is like a deep pool drawn in a different language, and she isn’t entirely fluent - “perhaps I would say you are worrying about different things than I am.”
“Gods, I’m being selfish, then.” Penelo laughs at herself, some of the tension dissolving. “Tomorrow’s about you, not me! If you aren’t worried about some deadly assassination, then what else is there?”
“Well,” Larsa says, and there’s a flash of something on his face she doesn’t catch as he glances away. “It’s a little awkward, to be perfectly honest.”
His eyes meet hers, and there’s an intensity in them she’s never seen before; it strikes her, an almost physical feeling. Penelo thinks, whatever he’s thinking about, he’s serious; I wonder if he’s already been forbidden his lowly pirate friends? The tension racks back up, piling in her chest. “Go ahead,” she says, trying to be casual. “No awkwardness necessary.”
Her tone brings a light smile to his face; it flutters awkwardly, like a bird trying to land. “Well,” he begins, in his most formal voice, part of it teasing and part of it true. “Tomorrow I will gain my majority, before all of the Archadian people…”
“...and everyone will throw confetti and cheer,” Penelo adds, trying to keep the mood light. “Dancers, streamers, the whole party…”
Larsa looks directly at her, and his eyes are burning with something that surprises her, holding her in place and quieting her tongue. “And as I obtain my majority, I plan to begin courting you.”
The breath freezes in her mouth. Penelo’s acutely aware suddenly of their closeness, the pose they’re locked into, lying side by side less than an arm’s-length apart; she’s even more aware when Larsa reaches out to take her hand. She allows him to pull it gently towards his face; he pauses, distinctly, to bow over it, his hair trailing across her skin as he presses her knuckles gently to his lips. His eyes have not left hers, not for a moment.
“I’ve waited,” he says, and the words breathe across the back of her hand. “For time, for fairness… for you, and myself. For my majority.” He gently tucks her hand back beneath the pillow, and his fingers trail across her skin as he removes his hand. “But tomorrow, I plan to be finished waiting, Penelo. With your approval.”
Penelo feels like she finally exhales; she feels light, and oddly, she isn’t surprised at all. “My approval,” she breathes, and hears the ghost of a laugh from Larsa. Of course, this is where it settles; her fluttering anxiety, having been named, fades into something that glows, a heated anticipation.
“I suppose I might,” she says, suddenly aware of the charge between them, of Larsa’s eyes on her and what that actually means. “I might approve,” and with significant daring, she reaches across to take his hand in her own and pull it to her lips. Her motion is nowhere near as practiced and graceful, but Larsa’s sudden inhale as she presses a kiss to his skin makes her feel like the most elegant lady in Archadia.
“Penelo,” Larsa murmurs, once, and it’s almost intimate: it’s a benediction, an anointment, and Penelo suddenly wonders what the last few years have been like for Larsa, tied to his throne and yearning while she and Vaan dance the world. As if she would choose anyone else? As if she could?
The thought makes her grin, wild with happiness. “Then I congratulate you on your majority,” she says; she wonders where the playful tone in her voice is coming from, watching Larsa’s eyes widen in response, then narrow.
“You promised dancers,” he says, his voice low, and she feels the flush spread on her cheeks. “I only expect one.”