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Something to talk about

Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Title: Something to Talk About
Author/Artist: iceprincessd
Theme(s): #29 Affaire de Coeur
Pairing/Characters: Balthier/Ashe
Rating: PG
Disclaimer/claimer: Balthier and Ashe do not belong to me. Property of Square Enix.
Summary: “Rumor is that you’ve had suitors knocking on your door at all hours.”
Note: If you squint, this could count as a companion piece to Clean Slates.


The morning was already warm by the time that Ashe stirred. She didn’t want to wake up just yet; she’d put in a long night of reading and her eyes still felt like two dried up pieces of fruit in their sockets. She groaned, knowing that she had a day filled with even more reading and signing and listening to advisors tell her what they thought was best for their country seeing that she had “been away for so long,” as they often put it, ahead of her.

Never mind that she had spent seventeen years totally immersed in politics at her father’s side, rules and regulations replacing the usual flights of fancy that other children were used to for bedtime tales. She humored some of the “helpful” pats to the hand she had been receiving from advisors that had been around since her father’s time, but had been finding herself dodging insistencies from everyone to inform her that she was in dire need of strengthening ties with the rest of Ivalice, preferably through marriage. At the beginning of her reign, getting everything else back on track after two years had taken precedence over such matters, but now requests to entertain various noteworthy matches had been becoming more and more frequent.

She didn’t think that it would be of any use if she told anyone that she would rather not, seeing that the man that had stolen her heart had been gone from her life for a little over a year and a half. He’d been a clever thief too; she hadn’t become fully aware of his actions until it had been too late to do anything but mourn his loss. The only sign that he was still alive had been the sudden return of her ring, but she hadn’t seen a trace of Balthier anywhere in Dalmasca since.

Rolling to her side, she told herself that dwelling on things that might have been didn’t help present matters; they only served to remind her of how lonely she had become. She stretched, feeling the consequences of sitting far too long hunched over documents in a chair that hadn’t been all that comfortable to begin with. She could hear the quiet sounds of her maids putting out her breakfast in the sitting room. They were talkative this morning, she thought with a smile, knowing that the older Mistress of Chambermaids had always frowned on them disturbing her sleep with idle conversation. Ashe had tried to tell them that it was fine, that she didn’t mind, but they always went about their morning routine as silent as ghosts. It seemed that their fear of disobeying their superior outweighed their monarch’s wish for friendly companionship.

Ashe didn’t begrudge them, she’d been terrified of the Mistress of Chambermaids since she had been six and had dragged sand over freshly cleaned floors. Even now, the memory was enough for Ashe to check her shoes several times before entering any part of the palace.

Tugging on her dressing robe, she went from her bedchamber to the sitting room, rubbing her tired eyes. She bid her maids a good morning while pushing her hair out of her face.

And then she stopped dead in her tracks.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded, her hands on her hips.

Balthier looked up from his seat near the window, a steaming cup of tea in his hand. “Good morning, your Majesty,” he said cheerfully, taking a sip. “Eggs? They’re quite good; there wasn’t a serving for a second person, so I took the liberty of helping myself to some of yours. I hope you don’t mind.”

Her eyes narrowed and she pointed to the door. “Out.”

“And the tea is just superb. Imported from Bhujerba, I presume?”

“I am not going to sit and talk about trivial things with a man that’s been dead for more than a year!”

He winked. “Very well. Stay standing, if you wish. This is, after all, your bedroom.” He eyed her. “Nice gown.”

Her hands clutched at her robe, pulling it tightly around her body. “Balthier…”

He looked at the maids, who had seemingly been frozen in place the second that their Queen had entered the room. “So she remembers my name,” he said to them. “I was almost afraid that I hadn’t made an impression on her.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and the younger of the two girls smothered a giggle behind her hand.

Ashe’s cheeks flamed and she suddenly wished that her sword wasn’t stored away in the palace armory. “If the two of you are finished, I would like to be left in peace for the morning,” she bit out, the rational portion of her mind knowing that she was being rude to the wrong people. The rest of her didn’t really care one way or another.

Balthier watched as the two maids left the room, both girls glancing back behind their shoulders before looking at the other. “If you really wanted to be alone with me…” he didn’t get to finish because the back of Ashe’s hand cracked over his face.

“A year and a half,” she ground out, teeth clenched. “How dare you come here, acting as if you’ve only been gone a week! How dare you show up after making me think you were dead!”

He stood up then, neatly placing the napkin he had over his lap back on the table. “Are you finished?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t think I’ve even begun.” She turned away from him, her arms hugging herself. The urge to hurt him warred with the need to fling herself into his arms and never let him go. She didn’t think he’d appreciate either move, so she clutched at her elbows until her fingers turned white.

“May I say something?” His voice was close and she could practically feel him standing behind her.

“I’d rather you left,” she told him. “I’m very busy today and your arrival has cost me precious time.”

“Ah yes,” his tone went from conversational to caustic. “Diplomatic meetings with potential suitors. Apparently you don’t tell Basch everything in your letters.”

She turned to look at him. “What?” He had been to Archades? Why hadn’t Basch told her anything?

He frowned. “Rumor has it that you have a new suitor every day. They’re practically knocking on your door at all hours.”

“Where did you hear that?”

He waved his hand in front of his face. “The marketplaces. For a ruler of the people, you need to listen to them closer.” He leaned in closer and Ashe was suddenly entranced by the scars that ran across the side of his face, making her wonder how he got them. “Perhaps I waited too long.”

She couldn’t help it. Reaching up, she cupped his cheek, the skin still slightly red from where she had slapped him. “Why are you here, Balthier?”

He closed his eyes, then stepped away. “Check your records again.” Leaving her looking puzzled, he opened her door and stepped out, loudly bidding the guards posted in the hallway good morning.

Later that afternoon, she called her meetings short. She felt as if her wits had been scattered and the only thing that she could keep her mind on was the last thing Balthier had said before he had left.

“Is everything all right?” one of her advisors asked. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

She nodded. “I’m just a little tired.” She was going to retire to her rooms for the rest of the day, but she stopped. “There is one thing that you can do.”

“What is it?”

“Bring me every record we have available for the sky pirate Balthier.” If her advisor found her request odd, he didn’t let it show.

***

There were thirty-seven warrants for his arrest all over Ivalice, running the gamut from impersonating healers to forging documents allowing access to private airship hangars of wealthy noblemen only to steal said ships. They were defunct, seeing that as far as any legal office knew, Balthier Bunansa had been dead for the proper amount of time for the statute of limitations to expire on each of his crimes. Ashe held one of them up. Larsa had recently signed the thirty-sixth a week ago, declaring Balthier’s crime of falsifying records in order to settle a large gambling debt invalid.

Ashe stared at the thirty-seventh one on her desk before picking up a pen.

***

Balthier yawned as he made his way back to the room he was renting in Balfonheim. It was so late in the evening that it could technically be considered morning. He didn’t care; he’d won a decent amount of gil in the card game that had gone on most of the night and the drinks he’d consumed were currently making his head pleasantly blurry. Fumbling at the door, he unlocked it and stumbled inside, whistling as he did so.

“Good evening,” Ashe said from her seat near the empty fireplace. She offered a half-eaten heel of bread. “Dinner? There wasn’t a setting for a second person, so I took the liberty of sampling a bit of everything.”

“What are you doing here?” he asked, his head quickly clearing.

“And the wine is spectacular,” she held up the glass. “It’s regional, isn’t it? Or perhaps imported from Archadia?”

“Ashe – ”

“So, he remembers my name. And here I thought I hadn’t made an impression on you.”

He sank down on the nearby bed and wearily laughed. “Enjoying throwing my words back at me?”

She tilted her head. “Somewhat.”

He gestured towards the door. “I’d rather you left.”

“And I’d rather stay, if that’s all the same to you.”

He raked his hands through his hair and looked at her. “Why are you here?”

She set the glass down on the scarred table. “There’s a matter of your actions to discuss. Because of you, I’ve had to undergo the third degree from everyone. Was it true that a man left your bedchamber? Is he reputable or connected? Are you serious about forming an alliance with him?”

“I’m sorry I caused you such agony.” The tone he used clearly stated he wasn’t. “Whatever can I do to make it up to you?”

“Well, for starters, I was going to exact some revenge on you. Several people saw me enter your rooms and I don’t intend to leave until very late in the morning with a highly satisfied look on my face.”

Balthier stared at her for a split second before throwing his head back and laughing. “You’re going to have to do better than that to start the rumor mill going. This is a town full of pirates, after all.”

Ashe stood up. “Then maybe this might be reason enough for my presence.” She pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to him. Balthier quickly scanned it before looking at her again.

“Wanted on the charges of breaking and entering the royal treasury with intent to appropriate valuable heirlooms?”

“I found it odd that Fran doesn’t have a single warrant to her name.”

He rolled his eyes. “That’s because she always lets me take the fall and spends the rest of the time figuring out how to break me out of any cell I might have gotten myself thrown into.” He set the paper aside. “Does this mean you looked into the rest of my record?”

“You have a rather colorful past, I’ll give you that. Though seeing that you’ve been legally dead for the proper amount of time, I don’t think I can rightfully say that any more. The name Balthier Bunansa has been fully cleared.”

The mattress squeaked as he stood up. “That’s good, because I’m going to do something completely dastardly now.”

Ashe was going to ask him what he meant when he advanced on her, his hands on either of her shoulders as he kissed her. She melted into his embrace, eagerly returning his attentions.

“Was it true that a man left your bedchambers?” he asked, nipping at her lip.

“Yes.” She slid her fingers through his hair.

His hands went to the small of her back. “Is he reputable or connected?”

“Absolutely not,” she replied, kissing her way to his jaw. “And I like him better that way.”

He tilted her chin up so she was looking him in the eye. “Are you serious about forming an alliance with him?”

Her smile vanished, a serious look replacing it. “If he’ll have me.”

His arms went around her, his breath stirring her hair near her ear. “I have no intention of letting you leave this room otherwise.”

She framed his face with her hands. “Tell me something, did you have this planned since before you stepped foot on Bahamut?”

“No, but while I was recovering from the crash, it didn’t take me long to figure things out.” He leaned his forehead against hers. “I’m sorry for making you go through that.”

She stepped up on tiptoe to press her lips on his. “That’s all right. I’ll just have you make up for lost time.”

Balthier smirked, a devilish light dancing in his eyes. “You were saying something about not leaving here until late morning with a highly satisfied look on your face?”

“I did.” As a person who had a soft spot for romance, Penelo was waiting to take her back to Dalmasca via a very small airship she had ‘borrowed’ from Vaan. Ashe’s court believed that she had urgent business to attend to with the Emperor, which gave her a valuable window of time to play with before anyone grew wary, more if Larsa cooperated. As Penelo dropped Ashe off before making her way to Archades, she promised that she’d make sure there weren’t any holes in anyone’s stories. Ashe made a mental note to outfit both young sky pirates with a state of the art ship, or at least help fund one of their liking.

Balthier’s hands tightened on her waist. “I’m afraid that won’t do. I’m not letting you out of my sight until at least after noon.” He lunged to the side, sending them both sprawling on the bed.

She laughed. “If that’s the case, your reputation is going to be completely ruined.”

He sat up on an elbow and stared down at her. “Then shall we give the gossips something to really talk about?”

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