Vaan looks nervous.
Like he's broken-her-favorite-vase-nervous. No, worse. It looks like he broke her favorite vase and threw her mother's only necklace down the well. He shifts and jumps from one foot to the other. This is only broken by the glances he gives the others. Uneasiness flashes in his face.
"Penelo..." Vaan should know why she'd be stone-cold. Reks was his brother. Was her brother, too.
He doesn't expect her to take her eyes off of the man in front of her, does he?
Does Vaan know who this scarred soldier is, who he should be? Penelo darts a look at Vaan who is now swinging his arms back and forth, a sure sign of his nerves. He trips over his words and is trying to explain a random set of coincidences that lead up to this moment. But, oh, words could hardly count for anything when it's Basch fon Rosenburg standing in front of her, with the same dark eyes she's imagined for years. The same eyes that Reks looked into when he...
He has thin arms, thinner than she thinks he would be, but... yes, he has been imprisoned for two years and Nalbina is no pleasure trip across open air and sea.
But all the same, she feels something like a good ice spell curl in the pit of her belly.
It's like a small wolf tap dancing across her innards and then giving a vicious bite to her sternum and ribs. Penelo tries to tell herself that there must be something more than meets the eye, but all she knows is that the man who stands in front of her is the one who killed Reks. He might not have held the sword, he might not have wielded the might, but he as good as slit Reks' throat.
Penelo bites her lip.
His legs are lean and sinuous, the muscles still etched against pale, scarred skin. She wonders how he managed to keep that together while locked up. His eyes are studiously not avoiding her gaze, and a shock runs through her at the jagged scar above left eye and the tatter of lice scars that brush against the stubble on his chin and cheek. She's seen those before, but only on the dirtiest, foulest of squatters. A twinge of pity shoots through her and she tries to strike it down.
This is the man who killed Reks.
Penelo tastes the words on her tongue, truth that has long soured and still stings like bees and carrion. Once, the words were more bitter than melons of Henne. It's like the years have coalesced and she can see the shadow of Reks in the hospital seat, dead to the world and dead to himself. He lives long enough to speak of the supposed truth and now?
Now? She stares at the man in front of her and he is not who she thinks of when her mind drifts to Reks. He is not supposed to burdened with pain and guilt; he is supposed to be arrogant and dark and evil.
Is this the man who killed Reks?
She hesitates, and then slowly, she asks, "Who are you?"
The Man Who Looks Like Basch startles and his eyes flicker toward Vaan. He seems not to know how to answer; he is a dead man, his name belongs to a traitor, to a monster-under-the-bed, and she can see his hesitation and she blurts, "No, no, you look like him, but who are you?"
This is the man who killed - didn't kill - Reks and is she to try to knock him down or is she to give him benefit of doubt? The questions ring through her head, like the clang of funeral bells.
Balthier interrupts. "We have little time for this. You may have your introductions when we reach a modicum of safety." He looks like he'd pet her on the head if he had the inclination.
She turns to glare at him, but he's bland and amused by her little-girl attempts and she would stomp her feet in frustration if she didn't know that he'd just think all the worse of her. Penelo takes a deep breath and tries to control the seekers fluttering in her stomach. This is something that needs serenity, not more madness. Penelo swallows back her bile. She looks at Vaan, searches his face. She sees his wary trust and the fact that even Princess Ashe is standing near the man who killed her father. Supposedly killed her father. Did he kill the venerable late King Raminas?
Basch (he's Basch?) stands his ground before her.
His weapon, she sees his weapon.
The hands grip a long sword, the point deadly and sharp. She's pretty sure that it's not just for show and that the infamous Basch probably knows how to use that weapon to with a deadly precision. The end is still stained from their long and bloody fight out of Leviathan, and the fresh wounds on his arms and chest are crusting over. Penelo feels the instinct to sing the words to a song for cure, to heal and smooth away the scars that waltz across his body.
But how is she supposed to cure the man who...
(But did he kill Reks?)
Right now, she has two choices.
One, she throws her dagger at his throat and cast whatever pitiful spells she can.
Two, she accepts that Basch fon Rosenberg is here and now and she takes what he has to offer.
Either way, she has a choice. Her choice.
Penelo takes a deep breath.
"Vaan. This is Basch fon Rosenberg."
The boy looks around, as if searching for help. Balthier shrugs, Fran scans the horizon, Ashe – correction, Princess Ashe – frowns, and Vaan? Vaan is being as useful as a bundle of needles. He gawks and prattles and tries to answer her questions in a way that only serves to confuse her. It's like eating cacti fruit for breakfast; there's something inherently wrong with it.
It's Basch who steps forward and bows – goddamn bows - to her, the courtly ministrations of old still lingering in every dip of his waist. He explains, his voice long and rusty from disuse, the treachery of his brother, the death of King Raminas – at that, he throws a deeply apologetic look at Ashe who ignores it – the escape from the Nalbina dungeons, even the fact that Reks had been used by the Archadian empire. All in order to frame him. It's the most revelatory three minutes she's ever had in her life – more so than the two weeks she thought she might have been in love with Vaan – and she bites her lip.
Penelo wants to laugh. This is like the beginning of a holodrama. It could only be complete if she slaps him.
But for all of Penelo's love of holodramas, she’s a sensible girl and rational almost to a fault. She glances at the group and sees that Balthier is antsy to go and Fran, well, Fran can’t physically look antsy, Penelo is sure, but she does look impatient, so Penelo thinks about Reks – he is still young and alive in her memories and she keeps him safely locked away, shining and bright – and says, "I understand."
The former captain has a faint look of surprise on his face, as if he hadn't expected her to so easily accept the situation.
She hasn't accepted it, but for now, she can live with the idea that perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, Basch fon Rosenberg did not kill Reks and as far as she's concerned, this makes me him like any other man out there. He is a soldier of Dalmasca, he's a former captain, he once pet her on the head when her brothers brought him home for dinner. He has her faith, if not her trust and in this situation, that is all she can hope for.
The Sandsea awaits them, and she knows that life is nothing but a long path.
She will deal with this.
”You don’t have to worry about me, I’m stronger than I look!”
Basch laughs. “That you are.”
It's the first time Penelo hears him laugh and she smiles.
Look, the Sandsea. It's beautiful.