Penelo glanced into the cockpit of the Strahl, blushing when her eyes came upon the object of her affection, who was seated in the co-pilot chair.
The Viera was completely oblivious to her watcher. Her attention was on piloting the airship, and it didn't seem as if anything would distract her from it.
Penelo's gaze took in the rest of the ship, and she frowned a bit when she saw Balthier in the pilot's chair. It seemed that every time Penelo worked up the nerve to talk to Fran, the woman was with Balthier. It was next to impossible to find her alone.
She didn't know what drew her Fran, to be honest. She had never been attracted to women before – Although, thinking back, she had never been attracted to men before, either – but she found herself falling for the Viera. Just the sight of her gave Penelo a warm feeling in her chest.
Still, it didn't look like she'd be able to confess her feelings today. She sighed quietly and began to turn back to her chamber, defeated. She didn't expect to see Vaan standing right behind her, and the sight of her friend made her jump backwards with a gasp.
"Vaan!" She hissed, glancing back at the pirates to see if they had heard her. No, both were still occupied with the ship, "Don't scare me like that."
He took one look at her face and smirked, "Sorry. I didn't realize that I was interrupting your stalking."
Her cheeks, which had already been a shade redder than normal, brightened, "Wh… What? What are you talking about?"
To his credit, Vaan motioned for them to walk away from the cockpit, where they weren't likely to be overheard by the subject of their talk, "You don't have to hide it, you know. I can tell that you have your eye on a certain pirate."
She followed him, but kept her ruse up, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Vaan laughed, "It's nothing to be ashamed of, you know. Sky pirates have that allure to them that makes them just so damn tempting…"
Penelo crossed her arms, glaring at her best friend, "Alright, so let's say you're right. What if I have developed a crush?"
A pensive look crossed his face, and he shrugged, "Well, then, I guess that would make us rivals."
Penelo's heart sank to the ground. If Vaan liked Fran, he had a much better chance than she did. Plus, she wouldn't be able to bring herself to stealing her best friend's potential love, "You mean… You also…?"
Vaan nodded, "Yeah, well… Can you blame me?"
"I guess not…" She sighed, "But… I don't want to be your rival, Vaan."
He chuckled a bit, "Oh, come on, don't be like that! I won't hold a grudge or anything if you beat me. We can keep it friendly, right?"
Penelo pondered this for a moment, and then grinned, "In that case, let's up the stakes a bit. Make it a bet."
Vaan smirked, "Oh? What kind of bet?"
"Well…" She had to think for a moment, "You keep saying that you want to get your own airship… So, let's say that whoever wins the heart of the pirate, also gets to pilot your ship. Loser will be navigator or something."
Vaan hesitated for a fraction of a second before nodding, "You're on, future navigator!"
The next few days had the two of them watching the sky pirates intently from afar, waiting to catch the object of their affection alone. It didn't seem as if this would happen any time soon. Balthier and Fran were near inseparable, whether they were in the air or on the ground.
"Ooohhhh, don't those two ever spend any time apart?" Penelo exclaimed to Vaan one evening as they met in the small kitchen area of the Strahl.
Vaan nodded solemnly, "I'm starting to think that the two of us have another rival besides each other."
Penelo sat on the floor with a pout, "It's not fair."
"What's not fair?"
Penelo looked up in surprise to see Balthier at the entrance of the kitchen. Fran was nowhere in sight.
When Penelo didn't answer, Balthier only shrugged, "Well, whatever it is, cheer up. Nothing is worth sulking about."
He left with those words, and Penelo caught Vaan's eye.
The same thing seemed to go through both of their heads. Now was their chance.
Penelo shot up to her feat and ran out of the kitchen, towards the cockpit where Fran most likely would be if Balthier wasn't there. She was so intent on her goal of finding the Viera that she didn't even notice that Vaan was heading in a completely different direction.
She frowned when she found that the cockpit was empty. The ship had been put on auto-pilot.
She hesitated for only a moment before turning on her heels and rushing towards the engine room.
She caught movement from the corner of her eye, making her stop in her tracks to see what was up. She saw Vaan and Balthier speaking.
Is he asking Balthier where she is, maybe? She thought to herself.
It seemed likely, and it was a better strategy than running around blindly like she'd been doing. She decided to listen in, hoping to catch ear of Fran's location, and maybe find the Viera first.
I feel bad for eavesdropping, but it's just for a little bit…
"Is there something on your mind?" Balthier asked.
"Um… I was just wondering…" Vaan asked hesitantly, "You and Fran… You seem to spend an awful lot of time together… Are you two… You know…"
Balthier seemed to catch on to Vaan's meaning and chuckled, "I love Fran, but not in the way you seem to be thinking. We're completely platonic, if that's what you're asking."
"So… Neither of you are tied down, then?" Vaan continued his questioning.
"We're both free as birds, relationship-wise," Balthier answered, "I'm going to take a wild guess in assuming that you've taken a fancy to Fran?"
"Um…" Vaan hesitated, and Penelo saw him blush, "No… It's not Fran I've taken a fancy to…"
Penelo blinked and her jaw fell open slightly, Wait, what?
"What?" Balthier echoed her thoughts.
Vaan didn't seem to be encouraged by Balthier's reaction. He glanced down to his feet and his voice dropped a bit, "You know what, it's kind of stupid… Forget I said anything."
He began to walk away, but Balthier grabbed his arm, "Now, now. It's rude to start talking about something and then walk away. Finish what you started."
Vaan stopped, but wouldn't catch Balthier's eyes, "Promise not to laugh?"
Balthier released Vaan's arm and placed his hands on his hips, "Of course. Matters of the heart are nothing to laugh about."
"Well, thanks for that," Vaan said, encouraged enough by this answer to turn and catch Balthier's eye again.
"It's no problem. It's only common sense, after all," Balthier nodded, "Now, tell me what's on your mind."
"I… Um… I like you," Vaan finally blurted out. Now that the hardest part was out of the bag, he continued quickly, "I thought I just admired you at first, you know? 'Cause you're a Sky Pirate and all. But then I realized that I was attracted to you… And I wasn't going to tell you, because I figured that there was no way that you felt the same way, but I figured that I might as well tell you, just so that I wouldn't keep thinking 'what if?', and… well… I'd understand if you didn't feel the same way. I just needed to let it out, I guess."
Out of breath, he stopped his ramble and looked to Balthier for any sort of reply.
Balthier crossed his arms, his face unreadable, "Well, that's interesting."
Vaan frowned at the answer, "So… You aren't angry?"
"Angry?" Balthier scoffed, "Why should I be angry? You're hardly the first person to make that sort of confession to me… Although you are one of the cutest… I suppose it's to be expected, given my natural charm and charisma… People always fall for the leading man."
Penelo rolled her eyes at the line she really should have expected from Balthier. That man was painfully predictable.
"Now, I have a question, if you don't mind."
Vaan nodded, encouraging the pirate to continue.
"From what you said, it seems fair to assume that you thought you had no chance with me…. So my question to you is…" With these words, Balthier cupped Vaan's face with his hand, "What were you planning to do if I decided to take you up on your offer?"
Vaan hesitated for only a moment before smirking and answering the question.
"This," He said right before leaning forward and catching Balthier's lips with his own.
The kiss was brief – so much so that Balthier didn't even have a chance to react before Vaan pulled away.
Penelo didn't stay to see Balthier's reaction. She had invaded their privacy enough as it was, and besides, she had a different sky pirate to find.
She snuck away from the scene with a silent laugh. She couldn't wait to see Vaan's face when she told him of their misunderstanding. She supposed that this would teach them to be a bit more specific the next time they thought they were discussing the same person.
In any case, Vaan's success with Balthier gave Penelo more courage to make her own confession. She walked to the engine room with her head held high.
Her resolve wavered slightly when she saw Fran's ears sticking out from behind the engine. She stopped at the door, unsure of herself again.
She's busy… I really shouldn't bother her…
But no… It could be a long time before she caught her alone again. She needed to do this now.
"What is it, Penelo?"
She jumped and blushed when she realized that Fran had noticed her.
"Um…" She started before her voice faltered. She cleared her throat and tried again, "I'm sorry to bother you when you're busy… I can come back later…"
"It's no bother," Fran answered as she stepped out from behind the engine, "I was just finishing up… What's on your mind?"
"I… had some questions about Viera," Penelo stammered pathetically. Ugh, was this really her?
Fran put her tools away, and leaned against the wall, "Go on."
"Actually, my question isn't really about Viera, but about you," Penelo admitted. When Fran nodded, she continued, "I was wondering if you have a lover…"
She was still skirting around the issue – she'd heard from her eavesdropping on Balthier and Vaan that Fran was indeed single – but she wanted to hear it from her.
Her surprise at the question was evident on Fran's face, but she answered it regardless, "No, I don't."
"Do you want one?" Penelo tried a bit more directly, but Fran seemed to misunderstand her question.
"I'm not interested in Balthier as more than a partner and a friend, so if you're planning…"
"I'm not planning to set you up with Balthier," Penelo quickly explained, "I... I was thinking of myself."
Fran crossed her arms, "You're offering to become my lover? You're rather young, no?"
Penelo blushed at Fran's directness, but looked down at the last statement. She was young, even by Hume standards… Sure, there were some girls that would get married as young as 15 years of age, but at 17 she must seem like a child to the Viera, who lived so much longer than she.
She was ready to turn heal and leave the engine room, not to mention apologize for wasting the pirate's time, when Fran spoke up again.
"You're young, but… you're strong with the Mist… You have knowledge and experience far beyond your years…"
Penelo nearly jumped when she felt Fran's cool fingers on her chin. She looked up to see the older woman much closer than she'd been a few moments ago.
"And, perhaps…" Fran continued her train of thoughts, crimson eyes meeting Penelo's pale grey ones, "I could be persuaded…"
Fran closed her eyes and gently pressed her lips to Penelo's. It was a tentative kiss, and lingered for a moment, as Fran seemed to ponder if the young Hume was worth her time. Penelo was afraid to move, in case she should do something to make Fran pull away. Instead, her eyes fluttered close and she allowed herself to enjoy the kiss.
It was over far too quickly, but Fran stayed close, and ran her thumb over Penelo's cheek, "I am supposed to be a pirate… Age shouldn't daunt me…"
Fran leaned forward to taste her lips once more, and this time Penelo returned the kiss, hoping to somehow convey that she was serious about this, that it was more than a silly child's crush.
This second kiss was shorter than the first, and Fran pulled away with a smile, "Age shan't daunt me. For now I must go pilot the ship, but you are free to seek my quarters tonight."
Penelo's cheeks flushed at the implication, but she nodded. Soon she found herself alone in the engine room as she watched Fran make her way back to the cockpit of the ship.
She followed a few minutes later, taking her time and still absorbing what had just happened. She encountered Vaan on the way – he was in the kitchen again, getting himself a snack, and didn't appear to have heard her come in – and couldn't help but notice the grin on his face.
"I take it that things went well with Balthier?" She teased, making her presence known.
His grin faded when he saw her and was immediately replaced with a guilty look, "Penelo… I… um… Look, I know we said that whoever got to him first had first dibs, and I really shouldn't feel bad about it, but… Are you really okay with this?"
She couldn't help but laugh at her best friend, "I'm fine, really. Sure, you won the bet – you get to pilot your airship whenever you can miraculously afford one – but… considering how well things went between me and Fran, I really can't say that I lost…"
Vaan blinked at the last phrase and his eyes widened slightly, "Wait a minute… Fran? But…" He then seemed to realize that neither of them had ever specified which Sky Pirate they were interested in, "So I guess… We weren't ever rivals, in the end, were we?"
She shook her head, still chuckling slightly, "I suppose that's a good thing. But, you still win the bet, since you got to Balthier before I found Fran."
He frowned a bit at that, "How do you know I got to him first?"
She shrugged, and pretended to be extremely interested on the architecture of the room, "Oh, well, you know… Eavesdropping and all."
"Hey!" He protested, before Balthier's voice from the cockpit interrupted them.
"We'll be landing soon! You might want to get in here and get buckled up!"
The two cut the potential argument short and listened to Balthier, making their way to the cockpit. They were soon joined by Ashe and Basch, who had been decidedly absent for most of the trip.
Fran glanced back to make sure everyone was buckled in, and her eyes lingered on Penelo for a moment before she turned her attention back to the landing. Penelo felt heat rush to her face once again, and silently swore to herself that she'd get over her blushing problem before the day was out.
For now, though, no one was watching her, so she simply smiled and thought about how much of a success the day was.
"Penelo, you look like a tomato," Vaan whispered to her.
Okay, so maybe someone WAS there to see her blush. She didn't care, though, and stuck her tongue out at him.
For now, she was happy, and no amount of teasing from Vaan would change that.