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Title: Baubles
Theme(s): #8 analysis; collection
Pairing/Characters: Balthier/Ashe
Rating: G
Summary: “Resorting to snooping, Princess?”

Balthier’s cabin aboard the Strahl was as neat as a pin. It made sense; the room wasn’t that large to begin with and any unnecessary clutter would just make it all the more cramped. Being the gentleman that he was – or that was how he worded it – he had offered his bunk to Ashe when Vaan’s mark hunts had them traveling all over Ivalice and far from inns. Natural curiosity led Ashe to look through the few built-in drawers that lined the walls. Most carried clothes, others held maps or ammunition, but there was one drawer near his bed that contained nothing but odds and ends that didn’t make any sense in the otherwise organized space.

“Resorting to snooping, Princess?” His causal drawl had her spinning on her heel, her eyes guilty.

“I do not snoop,” she told him, standing in front of the still open drawer.

“Of course not.” He moved to sit on his bed, the mattress sinking slighting under his weight. “You just had the urge to find out if I wore briefs or those ridiculously loose-fitting shorts that are currently in fashion.”

“I never!” But now that he said the words, she found her eyes taking on a mind of their own and wandering to the waistband of his pants. He caught her and his grin broadened, making her glare at him.

“I’ll save you the trouble; my unmentionables are kept in the second drawer under my bed.”

Ashe felt her face heat and hated the fact that he had the power to embarrass her. “I was merely wondering why you kept a bunch of meaningless things,” she said stiffly.

He tisked. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Perhaps I don’t think they’re meaningless.” He reached over, the sleeve of his shirt brushing her thigh. Pulling out a chess piece, he rubbed his thumb over the worn surface.

“My mother and I used to play every afternoon,” he said softly. “Keeping my mind occupied learning different strategies was just as important as my father’s insistence that my nose be buried in musty smelling books, or so she always told him.”

Ashe sat down next to him and listened as he continued. “She knew I hated being confined indoors, so we always played outside in the gardens.” He inhaled, his eyes shut. “There was a jasmine plant nearby. Sometimes, I can still smell it if I try.” He put the piece back and pulled out a small pewter pin in the shape of outstretched wings.

“You were in flight school?”

He shook his head. “No. This came from a boy who was enrolled though. He kept taunting me about how he was learning to fly all sorts of magnificent ships while I was stuck on the ground because my father hadn’t allowed me to attend. One day I had enough and started a fight. While he was stunned, I grabbed this. I was fourteen.”

“Why do you keep it, then?”

He leaned back on his elbows. “Several years ago, I met up with that same boy. He’s currently still working for the air fleets, but stuck in a desk job because the piloting skills he had so often boasted of weren’t up to par. While he’s stuck on the ground,” he paused and looked up at the ceiling, “I’m captain of my own ship and answer to no one. I keep that to remind me that the tides have ways of changing and what is so presently certain doesn’t always stay that way.”

Ashe looked in the drawer, suddenly wondering just what other stories some of the things inside held. “I stand corrected,” she said. “This isn’t junk.” She turned towards him when she felt a tug at her left wrist. Balthier held the rose corsage she had bought a few weeks ago, studying it in the lantern light. Battles had rendered it nearly useless and if she wanted to keep up the protective effects it held, then she’d have to buy another soon. The magicks might be worn down, but the deceptively delicate metal lacework was as sturdy as ever.

“I think I’ll add this to my collection,” he stated with a gleam in his eye.

“What will you say about it?” she asked.

He stood up and carefully set it inside the drawer. Closing it, he kept his back to her. “That I once knew a woman who took the time to see that certain things weren’t always what they originally seemed.” He turned back and the air in Ashe’s lungs left her in one sudden whoosh at the intense look he gave her.

“Is that all?” she asked lightly, trying to find something, anything to lighten the sudden turn their conversation had taken. She wasn’t naïve; she knew all about the appraising way he had often looked at her during the course of their travels. Then again, she’d been giving him the very same looks when she thought he wasn’t looking as well. If the circumstances were different, if she wasn’t who she was and if she didn’t have the tasks set before her that she did, she would have easily welcomed his advances. The future of her kingdom was at stake. She didn’t have time for distractions, no matter how attractively packaged they were.

Balthier blinked. “Well, I’d probably add that this certain woman was too nosy for her own good.” And just like that, they were back to their usual banter as if he’d never stared at her in a way that had made her toes curl in her shoes.

He bid her goodnight and closed the door behind him. She sat on the bed for a while before curiosity got the best of her. Kneeling down beside the bed, she opened the second drawer, telling herself that she was only going to take a quick peek.

It was completely empty. The implications made her face redden to the point where she was certain that Balthier would have split his sides laughing at her expression.

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