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a perfectly polite gesture

Title: A perfectly polite gesture
Rating: G, bordering but not quite at PG
Character/Pairing: Balthier/Ashe
Words: 1,257
Summary: “And just why would a preening fool of a man bother me?”
Note: Just something to try and break the wordcount blues for my NaNo story. Don’t know quite where this one came from. Jealous!Balthier ahoy!

“Are you quite done brooding or are you going to continue stewing about in an ill mood?”

Balthier turned to look at Ashe, who was standing with her feet planted firmly underneath her and her hands on her hips. “And whatever gave you the impression that I was in a foul mood, Princess?”

She drew in a breath. “Practically biting off poor Penelo’s head when she asked you a simple question was a slight tip-off. What has put you in such a state?” She thought back to everything that they had gone through. From what she could recall, he had been his usual cheerful yet faintly sarcastic self while they struggled through the Golmore Jungle – even Basch had grown tired of the never ending waves of malboros and gargoyles that had assaulted them. And through the biting cold of the Paramina Rift, Balthier had not complained. “You’ve been this way since we left the Gran Kilitas. Is there something wrong?”

He shook his head. “No, nothing.” They were back in the flurries of snow, which were making it hard to see in front of them. The Stilshrine of Miriam was still some ways away, and night had fallen upon them before they had reached their destination, forcing them to stop. “I’d appreciate it if you dropped the subject.” He poked the meager fire they had been able to create and tried his best to keep the flame alive. What I wouldn’t give to learn some fire spells, he thought darkly, turning to glance over to his sleeping Viera partner. Perhaps I should have listened when she tried to offer to teach me.

“It’s Al-Cid, isn’t it?”

He sighed. Obviously she was going to pick at the problem until it was solved to her satisfaction. Speaking quietly so that the rest of their companions wouldn’t be disturbed, he glared at the fire. “And just why would a preening fool of a man bother me?” He stabbed at the fire with more force than necessary, breaking the twig in his hand in half.

“It does have something to do with him.” She sat and tugged the blanket she had draped around her shoulders closer to her body. “I didn’t find anything suspicious with him.”

“Of course you wouldn’t. He’s already blinded you with his pathetic attempts at charm.”

She sat up straighter. “You think me foolish to fall for something so transparent?”

“I don’t see why not. Scores of women before you have.”

So he’s jealous. This should prove interesting. Ashe tucked away the fact that Balthier was jealous of Al-Cid because of her for later thought when she wasn’t face to face with said sky pirate. “I have to admit being flattered by his attentions. Should I become queen, strengthening ties to Rozarria would be one of my first priorities. Having his favor now is most fortuitous.”

“Ah yes. He would be a good match, if you like feckless men.”

“You speak as if you know him.”

Balthier shrugged. “I know of him, yes. He’s a distant relative.” At Ashe’s raised eyebrow, he waved his hand dismissively. “Very distant. The Margarace family tree is littered with children sired by generations and generations of royal attendants. Somewhere down the line, a Bunansa man had been somehow snagged by a lady as part of her cortege. They don’t speak of it at all, but I’ve seen the records in my family vault.” He shut his mouth then, hoping that Ashe wouldn’t pry into the more personal matters that he wasn’t quite ready to speak of with her yet. “I do hope you like living with other women, for I don’t see him as the type that would drop his chain of girls just because he married.” It was a low shot and he knew it, but seeing Al-Cid press his smarmy lips against Ashe’s hands had made a red haze fall over his vision and his fists clench at his sides.

Ashe’s lips tightened into a thin line and she glared at him. “You have no cause to speak to me thusly.”

He shrugged. “I’m just trying to warn you how life would be should you pursue this. Oh, he’ll be charming and dashing at first, inviting you to his family villa for the summer,” He said the last bit with the fluid rolling accent most Rozarrians had. “But it won’t last for long. The next thing you know, he’ll be charming some other girl who will have no clue that she’s slotted to be yet another one of his women. Somehow I don’t see you standing for that sort of behavior.”

“Finally, you say something that isn’t an insult.”

He moved so that he sat closer to her. “I mean no insult at all, Princess. In fact, there are many things that I have found myself admiring about your character.” He glanced down at her hands, both of them clutching the blanket closed to ward off the cold. “Yet I never thought you’d be moved by a mere kiss to the knuckles.”

“I never said that I was.”

“Oh?” He reached out and took a hold of one of her hands, warming the icy skin he found there with both of his. “So if I took the same liberties that he did, you wouldn’t be affected in the slightest?”

“Of course not,” she whispered, looking everywhere but at the smirking man beside her.

He knew a challenge when he saw one, and he was not one to back away from something so promising. “Of course you wouldn’t. A courtly kiss to the back of the hand has been a staple in politics since time out of mind.” He lifted her hand to his mouth, letting his breath play across the skin of her knuckles. “It’s a perfectly polite gesture.”

She glanced at him, determined not to let him see how the barest brush of his lips as he spoke made her stomach twist into odd knots. “It certainly is.”

“And if perhaps my lips happened to linger a little longer on the fingers than necessary, I still wouldn’t be called on it.” His bottom lip skimmed her index finger and lingered, making her hand tingle.

“It wouldn’t be polite, but I could withdraw my hand at this time if I wanted to.”

“Ah, but you are polite. Almost to a fault.” He lowered his eyes and pressed a kiss to each finger. Impersonating a Rozarrian again, he tilted her hand up and dragged his lips slowly over the pad of her thumb. “Would you strike me for my actions, Highness?” He nuzzled the inside of her wrist then, the faintest rasp of day-old stubble brushing against her hand.

Ashe snatched her hand away. “That was highly inappropriate,” she told him, moving so both her hands were hidden from view – and grabbing distance – from him under her blanket.

He gave her a slow, lazy smile that did nothing to help slow her frantically beating heart. “And that is the difference between him and me.”

“What, that you would stoop to ungentlemanly methods where he wouldn’t?”

“No,” he leaned towards her, still smirking. “That I could make your pulse jump where he merely bored you.”

Ashe didn’t know what to say to his self-satisfied comment that wouldn’t wake their companions up. So she chose to stare at the fire, vowing to never let him touch her ever again.

Although if he tried, I don’t think I would put up much of a fuss… Not that she’d ever let him know that.

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