After that last fight, Penelo felt sorry for Gabranth. Really sorry. Not the kind of sorry that comes in rush of sympathy over a sudden misfortune. Nor an 'oh my god, how can he possibly be this thickheaded' type of sorry. No, it was something else, and with that realization, Penelo finally understood why she and Basch always got along, just like two old friends who've known each other forever. Basch grew up with his brother just like Penelo had grown up with Vaan, and even though she always thought Vaan was bad, wow, Basch's brother is worse. Much worse.
She thought of this while watching Gabranth. Everyone else ignored him while he crouched in the corner of the freight elevator, sulking in his suit of armor. With his shoulders slumped and horn-helmed head hanging forward, he looked ridiculous: a big, mopey wannabe badass. No wonder Basch ignored him.
Basch motioned Vaan over to the elevator's controls, and a few seconds later Vaan worked the lever, slowly sending them up toward the Bahamut's upper deck. Everyone else on the elevator gazed up to where the platform would dock. Ashe stood stiff shouldered. Fran shifted the straps of her quiver. Basch leaned down on one knee, tightening his bootlaces by feel. Balthier tapped his foot.
Penelo stood close enough to Gabranth to hear his breath rattling through his helm's mask. It sounded rather suspiciously like he was crying. Of course. And wouldn’t that explain why he's hiding behind his helm? Vaan would've done the same -- hide his face -- because there was absolutely no way Vaan would ever let anyone see him cry. But, actually, there was a big difference between people like Gabranth and like Vaan. That differences was purpose.
After Vaan's parents died, Vaan did one stupid thing after another, strutting around, head filled with big ideas, but then he'd lash out when nothing went as planned. Vaan went through a phase when he kicked over trash cans in the alleyways in the mornings. He really just liked all the noise and the mess they made when falling over. Then he'd run as fast as he could, thinking no one saw him do it. Of course, they knew. Penelo always hunted him down, tugging his arm and yelling at him, telling him to go back and help, but the harder she pulled Vaan back into the alley, the more he shouted at her and fought back. Eventually he'd win -- or he'd think that he had won -- and then he'd run off into the market to steal food from one of the vendors, getting himself in real trouble.
That was the difference between Vaan and Gabranth. Once Vaan started following Ashe, Vaan realized he could finally do something that mattered. But Gabranth? It doesn’t matter that he was twice Vaan's age, he was still kicking over trash cans in alleyways. Yet, for someone holding his position of power, that just wasn’t right. People like Larsa counted on Gabranth, but Gabranth just didn’t seem to care.
The freight elevator neared the top level of the Bahamut, and everyone else fell into formation. Penelo skipped over to Vaan.
"Don't worry about me," she said. "I'll catch up in a minute."
"Hey, you aren't chickening out, are you? Because this time we're actually gonna need your help."
"Thanks a lot, Vaan. But I first need to do something before I join you."
When the elevator jolted to a halt, Vaan shrugged before running ahead with everyone else. Penelo sprinted to the back of the elevator platform, right to where Gabranth sat on the floor.
"Helmet off," she commanded. She knelt next to him, opened her chemistry bag, and grabbed three of the strongest potions she had.
Gabranth ignored her. She wasn’t surprised. She waved one of the potions in front of his masked face. "I'm not wasting this by squirting it through your mouth guard," she said. "And we don't have time to argue because Larsa needs help right now."
Penelo counted to three while Gabranth remained silent and still. She grabbed his gloved hand and shoved the phial between lax fingers, while he acted as if he was ignoring her.
Well, she thought, if that was how he was going to be, she would just have to do as she must.
She yanked the helm from Gabranth's head, and she knew the moment she saw his face that this was the right thing to do. His eyes were puffy and red. Dirty trails of tears lined his cheeks. In that instant, Penelo thought it was funny that even though Gabranth had all the same features as his twin, he looked nothing like Basch. Especially not while scowling at the ground like an angry overgrown child who wanted to kick the world in the teeth just so he could get even.
Penelo snatched the phial back from his hand, uncorking it with her thumb. "You're leaving me no other choice." She popped its glass mouth between his lips. "Drink up! You've got two more coming."
Once he had silently swallowed all the liquid in the first, she started him on the second. Penelo splashed water from her canteen on a mostly clean handkerchief. As he downed the third potion on his own, she washed his face.
Never, not even once, did Gabranth look up at her.
Even when she dropped both of her hands on his shoulders, he still didn’t look up. He really was making a point of being stubborn, Penelo thought, but she knew that fighting with him would only make matters worse.
"Larsa talked a lot about you,” she said softly. “He told me that of all the Magisters, you're the one he trusts the most. You know why? He said that you treat him with respect rather than thinking that he’s a burden that someone dropped in your lap."
Gabranth pouted in response, still looking defeated, shoulders curled inward, eyes looking down.
So, if that was how he was going to act, she would just have to treat him like he deserved.
Penelo kissed him, kissing him just like a child, first on the left cheek, then a big loud smacker on the right. He didn’t do anything in response, not even blush the way his brother often did. She shook his shoulders, softly at first, then hard enough to make his head snap. That was when Gabranth finally met her eye. It was the damnedest strange look Penelo had ever seen after giving someone a kiss. His eyes narrowed coolly as his lips twisted halfway between a smirk and a sneer, much like he was simultaneously thinking 'what the hell was that?' mixed with ‘so, what do you plan to do next?"
If ever Penelo had seen an invitation to just barge right in through a door, this was it.
And that was how Penelo ended up kneeling between Gabranth's out-turned knees, tips of her fingers resting against his cheeks, both of them gently kissing on the lips. No tongue. And none of that rude groping that certain people like Tomaj automatically think they have license to do. Actually, Penelo would have been surprised if Gabranth started feeling her up. She knew his type. Gabranth was the sort who had to act tough, always making a big fussy show over the slightest offense, but when kissing like they were right at that moment, it was clear that he knew nothing beyond the sensation of his lips firmly pressed against hers, while he slowly took in her breath like the last air left in the room.
When she pulled back, Gabranth wore a theatrical frown.
"You better not let me down," she said as she stood up. "And you definitely aren’t going to let Larsa down either. Or else.”
He looked at her, smug, jaw set, eyes glaring a prideful challenge.
"I'll see out on the bridge, right?" She buckled her chemistry bag to her hip, turned, and ran to the bridge without looking back.
Whether or not Basch or Vaan saw any of it, she couldn't tell, but Fran was looking over her shoulder as Penelo ran forward.
"I was just making sure Gabranth knew that he's supposed to be helping," Penelo whispered.
Fran nodded, sort of like she was thinking 'of course,' like all of it was no big deal at all. Because it wasn't. Or, maybe, it was. Because the real deal was making sure that Larsa survives when everything inevitably goes to hell. And it will.
Even though Penelo didn’t hear Gabranth's armor clanking up behind them yet, she knew he'll come. He would wait, waiting for the moment when he could step in and look like he was turning the tide. That was the sort of man he was, but it didn’t matter. She knew he would eventually help and, right at that point, that was all that counted.