This is for nanthimus as part of the LiveLongnMarry comm from over the summer (I know, I know). *fails at life*
Title: To Catch A Thief
Fandom: Final Fantasy XII
Word count: 3550
Warnings: Some rather heavily glossed pre-smut because I'm useless like that.
Summary: Vaan's done a lot of growing up since he became a sky pirate. Basch isn't entirely certain why he's started to notice, but he's definitely not the only one.
lThe whole thing started out innocuously enough.
“Balthier,” Basch greeted with a smile, the heavy carpet muffling the clink of his boots as he strode across the floor. Balthier turned away from the window at his name and Basch clasped his hand in a hearty greeting. “Larsa informed me that you and Fran had arrived.”
“How kind of him,” Balthier quipped, returning the handshake. His mouth twisted into a sardonic smirk as he eyed Basch’s gleaming armour, the horned helm tucked neatly under one arm. “You wearing that mantle of yours well, Judge Magister.”
Basch shrugged, somewhat wryly. “It seems to be fitting more easily these days,” he allowed, the image of his brother staring back at him in the window over Balthier’s shoulder. “Though there are some parts of my former life that I fear I shall always miss.”
Balthier’s expression went understanding around the edges and Basch gave himself a mental shake, moving to carry the conversation onto less unpleasant topics.
“What brings you to Arcadia?” he asked curiously, shifting back on his heels and feeling the sun warming his plate mail. “I know you have little reason to be fond of this part of the world.”
Balthier shrugged. “Oh, this and that. I’d make a suitably pithy comment about the pleasure of visiting old friends but,” sharp eyes flicked meaningfully to the scar at his brow, “considering that you are currently supposed to be neither, I think I shall forgo that.”
Basch reined in a smile. “Then I shall thank you for your restraint. How fares everyone in Rabanastre?”
“The Queen seems well,” Balthier answered. “Though a bit fatigued from dealing with her advisors.” His mouth quirked again. “Rebuilding a country seems rather more challenging than wresting it back in the first place ever was.”
“The Lady Ashe has always worked very hard for her people,” Basch declared staunchly, though he doubted he had much to fear of slander from Balthier. “And Vaan and Penelo?”
“Oh, they’re as enthusiastic as ever.” Balthier tilted his head significantly towards the window, amusement sparking in his eyes like a secret. “You can ask them yourself, if you’re of a mind.”
“Truly?” Basch stepped closer, peering through the glare at the open causeway below. “Wherever did you drag them in from?” he asked, his sharp eyes easily picking out the two brightly dressed sky pirates playing a raucous game of what looked like tag between the arching pillars
Balthier chuckled. “We ran across them in Balfonheim.” His tone went almost ruefully approving. “They seem to be doing decently well for themselves.”
“That’s high praise indeed, coming from you.” Basch watched Vaan vault neatly out of an irate Penelo’s reach, laughing as she grabbed at his vest and it threatened to slide straight off his shoulders from his forward momentum. There was a great deal more definition in his tanned chest than had been there the last time Basch had seen him.
“The past months have been good to them,” Basch remarked, attention lingering on the lean, graceful curves of Vaan’s limbs, the sweep of pale hair across a face gone startlingly handsome now that it had lost the last vestiges of childish roundness. “Vaan in particular.”
“Oh yes,” Balthier agreed, something peculiar in his tone, and Basch glanced sidelong to find the man staring out the window with his hunting grin on.
“Balthier?” he queried, frowning slightly. “Is something amiss?”
Balthier waved a desultory hand. “Not for long I wouldn’t expect.” His eyes didn’t leave the two playing in the causeway. “I intend to see to it.”
“Gabranth!” a familiar voice chimed out later on that afternoon, strident and delighted under the vaulted ceiling.
“Vaan,” Basch greeted, smiling as the boy jogged up. The name echoed hollowly beneath his helm. “You’re looking well.”
Vaan shrugged, a careless ripple of smooth skin. “What can I say? Sky pirating must agree with me. I’d say that you’re looking good too,” he added, with a cheeky grin. “But it’s hard to tell beneath all that frippery.”
“I’d hardly call the armour of a Judge Magister ‘frippery’,” Basch chided, though he was reaching up with gloved hands to pull free his helm all the same. The catches slid loose and Basch smiled gently down at his young friend. “Especially in the middle of Arcadia.”
“No kidding,” Vaan agreed with a laugh. Something sly twinkled in sky-bright eyes. “But at least I’ve learned to call the right name these days.”
Basch blinked, imagination going in odd directions before he realized what Vaan had to mean. “Ah. Yes. That is certainly an improvement.” Vaan grinned up at him, uncomplicated fondness painted openly across his face, and Basch coughed. “So, erm, what brings you and Penelo to Arcadia?”
Vaan didn’t seem to notice his distraction. “Besides the machinations of our self-proclaimed leading man, you mean?” He shrugged. “Someone in Balfonheim put up a bill for a monster in the Tchita Uplands. Penelo decided it’d be rude to be so close without stopping to say hi and then we ran into Balthier and Fran on our way out of Balfonheim and that pretty much settled it.”
“Mm. Balthier mentioned that,” Basch remarked. He cocked his head curiously. “You and Penelo still belong to the Hunter’s Guild?”
“Mostly me, actually,” Vaan admitted. He glanced sheepishly up through his bangs, the expression making him look much younger. “I mean, being a sky pirate’s awesome and all and Penelo’s a great partner, but I kind of miss all the adventuring and fighting and stuff sometimes. So I decided to stay on with the Hunter’s Guild – do at least a little adventuring now and then.” His mouth twisted into a self-depreciating grin. “Kinda dumb huh?”
“Not at all,” Basch was quick to deny. “Those who know the thrill of combat in their blood will always feel the lack, regardless of the station or vocation they might rise to in life.” He paused a moment, considering. “When do you intend to seek this hunt?”
Vaan hunched one shoulder in a careless half-shrug. “Tomorrow, maybe. Why?”
Basch inclined his head gravely. “I would accompany you, if I may.”
“Really? Why?” The grin Vaan flashed him was dangerously charming. “Afraid I’m going to get mauled by a coeurl or something if I’m out there all by myself?”
“On the contrary,” Basch protested mildly. “I’ve had many opportunities to observe the mettle of your sword. There is, however, no harm in having company. And you are not the only one to miss the adventure of a life lived by the sword.” He let a vaguely rueful smile spread. “Though I fear life in the capital is dulling my edge.”
“Yeah right, Basch,” Vaan scoffed, with a patently disbelieving look. “You came out of solitary confinement in Nalbina still swinging – a bit of soft Arcadian living isn’t about to stop you.”
“You think too highly of me I fear,” Basch demurred, refusing to acknowledge the lick of warmth that curled in his stomach at the praise. “I hope I shall not slow you down.”
Vaan grinned. “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.” His head cocked rakishly, fair hair slanting across his eyes. “Just leave some of the coeurls for me, okay?”
“The same to you.”
“And the intrepid hunter returns,” Balthier declared expansively as Basch strode jerkily into the room the next afternoon, his surcoat singed and the scents of smoke and blood clinging thickly to his skin. Balthier leaned back against the couch, smirking at him over the top of a full glass of madhu. “I trust you enjoyed yourself?”
Basch sank wordlessly into the nearest chair, thunderstruck. There were two hectic spots of colour high on his cheeks.
“Ah.” Insinuation replaced the idle amusement in Balthier’s voice, his look turning knowing. “More than you expected to, I see.”
Basch said nothing, staring at the floor through his interlocked fingers.
Balthier shrugged philosophically. “I tried to warn you.”
“You did no such thing,” Basch roused himself to object and Balthier’s head cocked patiently to the side.
“Would you have thought you needed to listen?”
“I,” Basch started, faltering when he found himself unable to deny it. “He’s only a boy,” he said instead, though he wasn’t sure which of them he was trying to convince.
Balthier shrugged again. “Not so much as he was.” A many-ringed finger uncurled from around the glass and pointed at him. “As I recall, you’re the one who remarked on how much he’s grown.” Balthier’s glass tilted, ice clinking faintly in the stillness. “A little maturity can go a long way in the right person.”
“That doesn’t mean I want to notice it,” Basch muttered, into his hands.
“But you have now,” Balthier countered ruthlessly. “And there’s not a lot that can be done to undo that.”
Basch’s expression felt more than a little wild around the edges. “But this is Vaan we’re talking about!”
“There’s naught that’s more appealing to a man of skill and drive than competency,” Balthier remarked sagely. He smirked. “Especially when it comes wrapped in such a pretty package.”
Basch couldn’t answer, mind busying reassessing everything he knew or thought he knew about his relationship with Vaan. And Balthier’s for that matter.
He heard the tumble of ice as Balthier’s glass tipped again. “I wouldn’t worry so much,” the sky pirate told him. “I’m sure Vaan’s old enough to make a decision either way should you choose to pursue this.” He paused, and added in a strange sort of voice, “Though, if you do, it means we are destined to be rivals.”
“Rivals?” Basch asked, glancing up.
The glitter in Balthier’s eyes over the rim of the glass was deadly serious.
“For the little thief’s affections of course.” An elegant brow arched. “Or would you rather stand aside? No,” he answered himself immediately, as the expression on Basch’s face went flat. “I wouldn’t have expected so. Well then, we shall have to see how the game plays out. ” He drained his glass and stood. “The best of luck to you Captain.”
“And you,” Basch responded, wondering if life in Arcadia robbed everyone of their morals.
“How civilized of the both of us.” Balthier’s expression sharpened. “Although now, if you’ll excuse me, I know of a certain fledgling sky pirate to whom I promised a tour of the Strahl’s engine workings.”
Basch couldn’t help but roll his eyes, though the expression on his face was a little on the grim side. “You don’t waste a moment, do you Balthier?”
“Pirate,” Balthier reminded him easily. His eyes cut mockingly up to Basch’s. “And a firm believer that you need not wait for something to be given if you steal it away first.”
“Be careful,” Basch felt obliged to warn, rising as well. “Or mayhap you might find someone else beating you to it.”
Balthier’s smile was a thin, deadly thing. “I welcome the attempt, Lord Gabranth, but I fear you may find yourself outclassed in this instance.”
Basch’s eyes narrowed. “Try me.”
From that moment on, it was war.
The days of their impromptu visit stretched slowly into weeks, neither pair of sky pirates showing any particular need to be off. Which, while it suited Basch’s interests in some ways more than others, it neatly guaranteed that essentially all of his time was spent either attempting to court Vaan or watching sidelong as Balthier did the same.
Not that he could really consider it courting, per se – there were some decided differences between wooing a genteel, well bred young lady and vying for the attentions of a fiery, brash, half-undressed sky pirate, after all – but calling it a seduction seemed rather tawdry.
Balthier’s efforts were closer to falling into that range, Basch thought on more than one occasion, listening to the man’s honeyed drawl and wondering why he’d never noticed just how… compelling it sounded before. The man was damn sneaky too, to the point that Basch couldn’t even be grudging in his appreciation for how well Balthier played the game.
It wasn’t a one-sided approval either. The occasional wryly acknowledging glances the Balthier threw his way – usually after happening upon Vaan and Basch sparring somewhere on the palace grounds while Basch used both his sword and his close proximity to the best of his advantage – suggested that his adversary found his performance not entirely lacking either.
Not that it seemed to matter much. Not when Vaan seemed completely oblivious to all their efforts.
Frustrating though it was, Basch found himself torn between the determination to redouble his efforts and the desire to laugh himself sick at the irony of the whole affair. Vaan’s smiles stayed carelessly bright throughout their every attempt, and indeed he seemed to find nothing amiss with mornings spent sparring with an armourless Basch, or afternoons up to his elbows in the guts of his airship while Balthier joked in his shirtsleeves beside him. Easy laughter danced in his eyes when he spoke to them, unaware of the almost-innuendos that slipped into his speech and left one or both of them at a complete loss for how to respond. Which was amusing when it tripped up the ever-urbane Balthier, though not enough, Basch thought, to explain why neither of them had given up the whole effort yet.
“It’s the principle of the thing,” Balthier said, a consummate lie if ever Basch had heard one. Balthier slanted an appraising look his way. “And you wouldn’t want to surrender at this stage of the game, now would you?”
Sometimes, Basch couldn’t help but think they were both idiots.
Things finally came to a head the day Penelo came upon the pair of them arguing heatedly about which of them would be escorting Vaan down into the city to go the bazaar. She nearly hurt herself laughing.
“Sorry,” she gasped, wiping tears from her eyes. Basch and Balthier shot her disgruntled looks. “I don’t mean to laugh. It’s just been so cute, watching you two throwing yourselves all over the place trying to get his attention.”
Balthier sniffed, the epitome of wounded dignity. “I fail to see why you’d formulate such an impression of our ... attentions to young Vaan.”
Penelo snorted. “Tell me another one, Balthier. You’re like a pair of adolescent boys with a crush.”
“Now Penelo,” Basch started, and she rounded on him with a no-nonsense look in her eyes.
“Look at yourself Basch,” she invited. “I’ve seen brick walls that are more subtle.”
“Apparently Vaan hasn’t walked into enough walls in his life then,” Balthier drawled, crossing his arms over his chest. “Else this whole debacle could have been resolved a fortnight ago.”
“Huh?” Penelo blinked at him. “What do you mean?”
Balthier rolled his eyes. “Just the fact that Vaan’s complete lack of anything even remotely resembling a clue has made the past few weeks rather more trying than they needed to be.” At his side, Basch nodded gravely.
Penelo’s eyes were wide with surprise as they traded back and forth between them. “You really believe he hasn’t figured it out yet?”
“You must admit he hasn’t given any indication otherwise,” Basch pointed out.
A strangely rueful expression flicked across Penelo’s face. “Well, that explains a lot,” she remarked. “But I can’t imagine where you’d get that idea. Even Vaan’s not that oblivious.”
Each raising a skeptical eyebrow, Basch and Balthier said nothing.
“He’s not!” Penelo protested, laughing again. “Come on guys! You don’t really think a boy as pretty as Vaan could grow up on the streets of Rabanastre without learning about the birds and the bangaas, do you? I mean, seriously?”
Balthier’s lips twisted in faint consternation and Basch could feel the sheepish chagrin etching itself across his face. Penelo shook her head at the pair of them.
“I can’t believe he’s been playing both of you all this time,” she sighed. “You’re all such boys.”
“Should we consider that an insult?” Balthier demanded, though the asperity in his tone was half-hearted at best.
Penelo waved a dismissive hand. “Not worth it,” she said. “Besides, isn’t it better to know that he’s been stringing you on instead of haring off for parts unknown as fast as he can? Just the fact that he’s stayed means he likes you.”
“Who?” Basch asked, at the same time as Balthier demanded, “Which of us do you mean?” and Penelo rolled her eyes heavenward.
“Look,” she told them, speaking slow and clear. “As long as Vaan’s happy I’m all for whatever happy threesome or joint custody thing you finally settle on. Honest.” She grinned with an impish twinkle in her eyes that looked just like Vaan’s. “Just don’t let him push you both around so much, okay?”
Balthier’s expression was only slightly more composed than Basch’s felt as she turned away, the bells around her wrists and ankles chiming in time with the carelessly graceful sway of her hips.
There was a momentary stillness in the wake of her departure.
“I’d say that she’s grown up a great deal as well,” Basch observed finally, a smile curving his lips despite his half-hearted attempt to curb it.
“Indeed,” Balthier remarked, a touch of sardonic humour colouring his tone. “Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find that she and Fran have been finding humour at our expense for some time now.”
They stood in silence for a while, shoulder to shoulder in the centre of the room, each preoccupied with their own thoughts. Basch realized that couldn’t feel the heat of Balthier’s shoulder against his, not through the plate mail, and wondered not-quite-idly when he’d started noticing the lack.
Eventually Balthier smirked self-depreciatingly and threw him a wry, sidelong glance. “So,” he said, a wealth of hidden implications lurking in his smile. “Shall we take her oh so subtle inferences to heart?”
“I suppose that depends,” Basch told him.
“Oh?” One of Balthier’s eyebrows rose eloquently. “On what, my dear Captain?”
Basch shrugged with all the nonchalance he could manage. “On whether my esteemed leading man is averse to using a bed big enough for three.”
Balthier was silent for a long moment, and Basch felt abruptly cold, mortally certain that he’d just made a fatal error. He was just about to stammer an apology and escape with whatever tatters of his dignity he could manage when Balthier’s eyes lit on him, his smirk sharpening into something appreciative and sly.
“Well,” the sky pirate remarked, the weight of his smile as intimate as a caress. Basch couldn’t really say he minded. “I suppose there’s only one thing left to be done, then.”
They found Vaan in the cargo bay of his airship, brushing dust off his hands as he surveyed the jumbled stacks of dark crystals, demon feathers and the like scattered at his feet.
“Hey guys!” he greeted as they drew up. He grinned at each of them in turn, the vague hint of amused mischief in his face easier to see now that Basch wasn’t trying to convince himself he was imagining it. “Which of you helping me drag all this to the bazaar?”
“About that,” Balthier said, something sensual and infinitely threatening in his careless saunter. “We’ve decided that its long past time that this charade was brought to its end.”
Vaan’s grin faltered only slightly. “What do you mean?” he asked, in a fair imitation of honest confusion. “What charade?”
“I think you know well.” Basch let his own expression shift into one of grave disapproval. “You’ve not been dealing fairly with us, Vaan,” he said, matching Balthier step for step.
“Guys?” Vaan started backing away from them, the vague unease in his face shifting into something closer to panic. “What’s this about?”
“Why, the way you’ve been stringing the both of us on for weeks, of course,” Balthier all but purred, and Vaan swallowed hard at the sound. Balthier shook his head, eyes never leaving Vaan’s face. “Really Vaan, if you had a preference, you ought to have said so by now.”
“I don’t know what-” His back hit the wall and Vaan froze. “Come on, guys,” he pleaded, as they drew closer. “Knock if off.”
“Oh I think not.” Balthier leaned in close to Vaan’s ear, his palm flattening against the wall above Vaan’s head. “We’re not letting you off that easily, are we Basch?”
“No.” Basch trailed a finger down the line of Vaan’s cheek, watching the way pale lashes fluttered at the touch. He allowed himself a satisfied smile and pressed in on Vaan’s other side. “He doesn’t seem to be protesting that strenuously, after all.”
Vaan’s breath was escaping in short, shallow pants. “A-are you guys serious?” he demanded, almost a plea.
“Very,” Balthier promised him.
“You don’t object,” Basch was quick to add. “Do you?”
A startled, faintly disbelieving laugh puffed out between Vaan’s lips. “N-no,” he managed. “I think I, oooh gods…”
Basch smiled around the whorl of Vaan’s ear, teasing with his tongue and watching out of the corner of his eye as Balthier fastened his mouth to Vaan’s neck, just above the line of his vest. Vaan groaned and his hands came up, fisting in their collars and pulling them possessively close.
“No,” Vaan repeated, a pleased smile licking cat-like across his face. “You’re not gonna hear any objections from me.”