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Silver Linings

Title: Silver Linings
Rating: G
Character/Pairing: Balthier/Ashe
Summary: For astrangerenters, who wanted the lines “My hands are dirty/so are mine” in a fic.

The rainy season had always been Ashe’s favorite time of year. Everything cooled off in the desert and there were resources available that couldn’t be locally obtained any other time.

Being caught in the middle of the torrential downpour without any protection from the elements put a whole new spin on the benevolent rainy weather though. She was drenched to the bone, her clothes stuck uncomfortably to her body and her hair was plastered against her scalp in a way she was positive wasn’t the least bit attractive. Mud squished underneath her feet and she lost her footing on the already saturated terrain, her knee sinking down and making a loud slurping noise through the mud as she tried to stand.

Balthier reached over and hoisted her to her feet, his hands on the upper portions of her arms. He wasn’t in better shape, even if his hair was short enough to stay out of his eyes. He was carrying their supply pack, which as waterlogged as it was, probably weighted a ton. His pistol was slung over his shoulder, the barrel pointed downwards in a vain attempt to keep the powder dry.

“You all right?” he asked, his hands lingering on her arms longer than necessary.

“Fine, thank you. How much longer to the meeting spot?”

Balthier squinted through the rain. “Five minutes if this was the dry season. Unless you wish to swim, then we’re going to have to take the long way around.”

Ashe sighed. They’d gotten separated from Vaan during the last big fiend encounter. Before setting out, the three of them had agreed on using the nomad village as a meeting point just in case something like this should happen. “Remind me again why we decided to go along on this hunt?”

He smirked. “Because sitting around in Lowtown during the rains while waiting for Vaan to run about getting us more gil would have driven you up the walls.” He swiped his face, sluicing rainwater out of his eyes. “Your words exactly, if I recall correctly.”

“And why did you decide to come along?”

“Really, what kind of gentleman would I be if I left you to the mercy of Vaan all by yourself?” The boy wasn’t all that bad, but it was clear that he had a severe case of puppy love when it came to the princess. He was harmless, if slightly annoying at times.

“You like him, admit it.” She stepped around a boggy portion of turf.

He shrugged. “He wants to be a sky pirate. It’s only right that I see him become a decent one. Wouldn’t do any good to have him bumble on through the process.”

She laughed. “To keep the good pirating name and reputation untarnished then?”

“To the best of my abilities, yes.” He hitched the straps of the pack higher on his shoulders. “You should laugh more often, Princess. It suits you.”

“There hasn’t been much to laugh about recently.”

“True, but it doesn’t mean that you must stew in your unhappiness. You have to find a ray of sunlight wherever you can.”

“Who said that?” It didn’t sound like something he would think of.

“My mother.” Balthier’s eyes darkened and he shook rain off his arms, the material of his shirt now transparent. “She didn’t have many reasons to be unhappy, but when she did, she made the best of a bad situation. Forever the optimist, she was.” He said the last with a fond smile, his gaze turning inwards. “She died when I was twelve. I was sent to Academy and when I returned, Father was a changed man. I hardly recognized him.”

“Grief will do that to a person.”

He stared at her and stopped walking. “Don’t let it happen to you.” He reached out again and loosely circled her wrist with his fingers. “The ones that leave us behind wouldn’t want our grief to consume us. Remember that.”

She looked down at his hand and tried to remove her wrist from his grasp. The sincere way he had spoken to her and the look in his eyes had stirred up emotions she thought had died alongside Rasler. “Stop that,” she told him, her throat dry. “My hands are dirty.”

He held onto her hand with his right and switched the grip he had on her wrist with his left. “My hands are dirty too,” he informed her, his thumb running lazy circles over the underside of her mud-splattered skin, feeling her pulse jump. “What are you afraid of?”

“Afraid?” She swallowed, hating how her voice had caught. “I don’t have anything to be afraid of.” It was a lie and she knew it. She was petrified at the way that this man, whom she had only known for such a short time, could make butterflies flutter in her stomach and her blood run slow and hot in her veins.

“It must be difficult,” he said, stepping closer, “to be strong all the time.”

“I have to be.” Her voice was all but a whisper now.

His nose touched hers. “Not with me.” He released her hand and tilted her face up towards his. “Let go, Ashe.” His hand sifted through her wet hair and cupped the back of her head as he kissed her.

The part of herself that she had carefully locked away years ago broke free and stretched. She went up on tiptoe, pressing herself as close as she could to Balthier. Her hands slid up his chest and clutched desperately at his shoulders, his skin blazing hot under her palms. She ignored the rain sliding down their faces and concentrated instead on the feel of his hand in her hair and the arm around her waist.

Ashe sank down so her heels touched the ground again. Her heart was thundering in her ears and she could feel his beat beneath her palm.

“Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” he quipped, holding her close. She turned her face against his throat and gave an unladylike snort of laughter. “Of course, practice wouldn’t be entirely out of the question,” he continued.

She lost it. Minutes later, they were both wiping tears of mirth from their eyes. “Thank you,” she murmured, feathering a kiss across his jaw.

He smiled, not a smirk or a grin or even a leer, but an honest smile. “Believe me, the pleasure was all mine.”

When they reached the nomad camp, they found Vaan already huddled under the remains of a tent. He had stretched a piece of canvas someone had left behind between two poles and was trying, though not very successfully, to keep dry.

“You two okay?” he asked, shaking his arms and sending water everywhere.

“Just fine,” Balthier replied, fussing with the cuffs of his soaked sleeves. “Though being dry for once would be pleasant.”

Ashe shook her head as she healed a gash on Vaan’s cheek. “It’s not all bad,” she said, giving Balthier a sideways glance. “Once you find a bit of sunlight.”

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