She'd been scarred since he'd last seen her, each mark a reminder of how he'd failed her.
The first time Basch saw it, it felt as if all the time that had passed since the king had been killed and their world thrown into chaos disappeared and she was the delicate, innocent, princess he'd watched grow up once more. Forgetting himself he grabbed her shoulder, running his thumb across the scar. "My Lady, who has done this to you?"
Then she jerked out from under his hand and whirled around, and the illusion was broken. The princess as he'd known her had never had such a bloodless face, or such angry, fevered, eyes. "Do not touch me so familiarly, /Traitor/," she snapped. "In fact, do not touch me at all. And that is no business of /yours/."
Though they'd only been close to each other again for a short while, he had already learned that it would do no good to try defending himself. Her heart had become as cold and hard as crystal, at least in regards to him. "I'm sorry, Princess."
- - -
He'd taken to watching her after that, not bothering to hide it from anyone other than the princess herself so eventually even Vaan noticed and began teasing Basch about gawking. Basch didn't mind, and Vaan gave it up soon enough after he realized that.
He spent his time examining whatever scraps of skin he could see when she adjusted her leg armor or shifted so the bottom of her shirt crept up as closely as he could from a distance, trying to find every other scar she'd gotten since Dalmasca fell. Every one a symbol of how he'd failed her by not being there to protect her.
Still, through the guilt he couldn't help but think that she wore them well. So many noblewomen would fuss and fret over the tiniest nick or scrap marring their appearances, but Ashe didn't seem to care about such flaws. If anything, she appeared proud of them when anyone other than Basch asked her about them, although still wouldn't say where they'd come from.
- - -
The others were wise enough to give Ashe her space after Vossler's death. The anger that she always kept warm within her heart had flared like Belias' inferno once they were safely away from the Shiva and nobody was safe from it. But Basch could not slip away from her just to escape her mood; she was his princess, and he would not leave her side again.
It would be better, he thought as he watched her brood, if she would scream and stamp and let out all of her rage in one wild tantrum. It would be better than this hardness that overtook her, than the way her face went even paler and her expression became a deceivingly calm mask until the moment she began ripping someone apart with sharp, poisonous, words. He feared that it would rip her apart within, to even attempt bottling it up so, and wondered how much damage it had already done to her. More wounds he'd been unable to prevent, these ones transforming her from the sweet princess she'd been to the companion he now traveled with.
But perhaps it was not an unfair trade, when those same wounds were what had forged her into a fighter who he would always trust to guard his back, even when she'd hated him so much that looking at him made her shake with rage. If he could find a way to keep it from injuring her further.
- - -
"It was from one of those giant lizards in the Eastersand," she said suddenly one day as he looked at the scar on her shoulder once more.
He blinked at the unexpected statement. "Pardon, My Lady?"
She reached backward over her shoulder to rub at the scar. "You wished to know, didn't you? It was no '/who/' that did this to me, it was simply a beast."
There were dozens more questions he wanted to ask her at this unexpected opening up, but he knew he couldn't ask most of them. Press her too hard and it was a sure thing that she would clam up again. So he simply settled for, "Those lizards are truly monstrous, my lady. I'm impressed that you survived."
"It's not so impressive. It wasn't after me." She grimaced suddenly and turned away from him. "Vossler was unlucky enough to catch it's eye, and it struck him unconscious before he could reach safety. I managed to drag him to the camp near the mountains, but it's fangs scratched my shoulder when it snapped out for him. ...Would that it had managed to take him from me."
He wanted to say 'You do not mean that, My Lady. You would not have saved him at all if you could shake off his death so easily, not when that monster could easily have killed you and doomed Dalmasca.'
But he couldn't do that. If he did he knew she would close herself to him again. Instead he reached out and touched the scar for the second time, this time with a careful caress instead of grabbing it like he had in the past. She stiffened for a moment then slowly relaxed, as if she was forcing herself to do so. "It is a mark of bravery, Princess. I had not realized."
"They all are. I would not allow myself to be marked so if I wasn't protecting one of my people, Basch. Remember that in the future, and stop looking at me as if each scar was the proof of some crime you've committed." She pulled away from him and began walking to where the rest of their group was setting up camp. As she walked she took a deep breath and said, not looking at him, "I begin to believe more and more that you haven't committed any crime. You would do well to believe it yourself."
And for the first time he saw each visible scar for what it was instead of what he'd felt it meant. She was as much a soldier as she was, they said, and if she had her way she would save them all.