A/N: Here's a little something that popped into my head at work. It's not meant to be taken seriously, just a silly little story of our favorite pirate and princess on the road to Draklor. Let me know what you think!
After clambering the steep footpaths of the Mosphoran Highwaste for a few days, Ashe had nearly collapsed in exhaustion. Finding the peaceful enclave in the midst of the mountains had been a godsend. The party had purchased new supplies for the continued push towards Archades. She barely remembered setting up a tent and falling asleep the night before, but she awoke before the dawn. Ashe wished that she could fall back asleep, but it was a new day, and the party should make haste to reach the Draklor Laboratory.
Ashe rolled onto her side to see Penelo and Fran beside her. The Viera slept peacefully, and Penelo's soft snores indicated that she was far from ready to awaken for the day. The Princess slid her shoddy traveling blanket off and sat up to stretch. Her joints cracked and popped from sleeping on the hard ground. She opened the tent flap and saw that the sun had not yet risen, but there was no getting back to sleep now that she was awake.
She walked to one of the old fountain shrines that dotted the area, splashing water on her face and rinsing out her mouth. What she would give for a proper nightgown and bath! But she was grateful to have spent the night in a safe area. The entire group had gotten to sleep that night with no one taking a watch against fiends. She doubted that many more nights like this lay ahead for the party until they reached Archades proper.
The Princess sat on the edge of the fountain, letting her fingers trail behind her in the cool water. Looking around the camp, she saw other tents, but no signs of activity. The charred remains of small campfires speckled the grassy hideaway, and the bubbling water of the shrines soothed her spirit. How early was it? She must be the only person awake. A splashing sound from the far side of the encampment told her that she was not. Who else awoke this early?
She stood up and wiped her wet hands on her skirt. Ashe didn't want to be nosy and intrude on someone's morning habits, but perhaps it was Basch refusing to sleep and taking a watch out of some sense of duty. The knight had been loyal to a fault, but Ashe felt that he deserved a good night's rest the same as the entire group.
Her bare feet relished the feel of the cool grass of the camp under them as she crept along the mountain path to see who else was up at this early hour. Stealing a peek around the corner, she was incredibly startled to see Balthier was the other early bird.
And Ashe was now very embarrassed to learn that she was interrupting a very shirtless sky pirate.
He was clad only in his leather trousers, and he was laundering his shirt in the fountain. His intricately decorated vest was laid on a nearby rock as he meticulously scrubbed the white cotton fabric. Ashe could not look away as she saw a side of the pirate she had never gotten to see. And it wasn't such a bad sight. She watched the muscles in his arms tighten and loosen as he concentrated on his task. He was always buttoned up, so Ashe had never really noticed his firm, muscled physique. Holding a heavy gun in his arms for a long period of time had probably brought about these results…
What was she doing? She was being incredibly rude and disrespectful, even if he was often coy around her. Peeping was not one of a Princess' duties. She was going to turn around then and there and get back to the tent, but she could not break her stare. Ashe had lived beneath the streets of Rabanastre with resistance fighters, so a man's bare chest was not foreign to her. But here in the cool mountain air, she saw a different side to the well-groomed sky pirate. The forbidden nature of her snooping was enticing, and it made him all the more attractive to her. She had to look away!
He finished washing the shirt and laid it carefully on another rock near his vest. Ashe felt dizzy as she saw him next move his hand to the waistband of his trousers, but she relaxed when she saw him detach a pouch from around his belt. Balthier dumped the contents of the pouch onto the stone ledge of the fountain, and he set everything into meticulous order. From where she was standing Ashe couldn't see everything, but it appeared that he was arranging toiletries.
She had spent no more than a few minutes with her morning rituals, but here was the sky pirate arranging his personal items to his liking in the same amount of time. Ashe smiled at his orderliness. She learned something new about her traveling companions every day it seemed, and this was something that she had not pegged Balthier for. Sure he had been impeccably dressed and polished every day, but she was now learning the lengths he went to in order to make himself that way.
He opened a small vial and sipped a small amount. The sky pirate then lifted a handful of water from the fountain and added it to what was already in his mouth. Ashe stifled a laugh at Balthier's mouth cleaning routine now displayed before her. He swished whatever was in his mouth around for a good minute, his head bobbing side to side and up and down in a much practiced fashion. Ashe was reminded of the pecking of a cockatrice, and she nearly doubled over in laughter. He turned to the side facing away from Ashe and spat the contents on the ground.
Moving on from the vial, he picked up a small metal piece with some threaded material attached. He leaned over to look in the fountain as he brought the thread between his teeth, a certain number of strokes required for every tooth. Ashe stood in awe of his behavior. Did he do this every single day? Of course she had been a lot more fastidious about her hygiene when she lived at the palace or with the resistance, but being on the road constantly and never staying in one place from day to day kept her from fulfilling the more time-consuming morning tasks. She got by with the bare minimum she could tolerate, which she now knew to be miles behind Balthier's idea of hygiene.
Finally, he seemed satisfied with the cleanliness of his teeth. He picked up a small mirror and looked to his sideburns. Ashe knew that they were painstakingly sculpted into that curve, and the Princess was now privileged enough to witness their upkeep. A straight razor was produced, and he applied a small amount of some salve to the area around his sideburns. Ashe noticed the small amount of stubble that had grown on his face over the last day, and it actually gave him a more roguish appearance. Some small part of her wished he wouldn't shave it off, but she saw him apply the salve to the remainder of his face.
She admired the skilled way his fingers manipulated the razor across his face. He made swift, exact strokes to remove the unwanted hairs, rinsing the blade in the fountain and returning it to his face. Ashe grinned then as a memory of Rasler entered her mind. It was a morning shortly after their wedding. He was fairly inexperienced at shaving, and he had cut himself several times. He'd had to attend an important meeting of state with small bits of tissue on his face. Perhaps he would have benefited from a lesson from the sky pirate. Balthier did not cut himself once, and he rinsed the razor off a final time. He leaned forward, splashing water on his face to wash off the excess ointment from his chin and cheeks.
Ashe now realized that she had been viewing this very private morning ritual for far longer than was appropriate. Actually, not one bit of the viewing had been appropriate, her mind chided her. She had to let him alone. But as she turned to sneak away, the Princess bumped into a low hanging tree branch. The rustling alerted her companion, and he whirled around to catch her in the act.
The Princess fumbled for words of apology as she had clearly surprised him. He began fidgeting with the small tools on the fountain's edge, returning the items he had used to the pouch. Ashe felt horrible for invading his personal space and interrupting the routine. She had ruined everything.
She had to save face with him somehow. Now that she was caught, she had to say something. What came out of her mouth and what she probably should have said were very different ideas. "So is this what it takes to be the leading man?"
The shock on his face was slightly lessened, but she could see his bare shoulders tense. He looked to put his shirt back on, but it was still too wet to return to his body. Ashe noted that he did not appear at all ashamed to be half naked in front of her, merely surprised that someone else was up as early as he was. His look of shock morphed into a grin as he sat down on the edge of the fountain beside his toiletry gear and stared back at her. She had caught him nearly bare, but now he looked back at her, and she suddenly felt as if she were nearly as unclothed as he was.
"Not all sky pirates awaken refreshed and flawless like Fran," he remarked cheerfully, crossing his arms across his chest. Ashe looked down to her feet, embarrassed at being caught, but still unable to walk away. "How long have you been there, Princess?"
"I couldn't get back to sleep, I'm sorry." She shifted from foot to foot for a few seconds, and she could feel intense heat in her face. He can obviously see how ashamed I am, and he's enjoying every second, she thought.
She turned to rush away, but he stopped her with a clearing of his throat. "You don't need to go anywhere. Being ogled by royalty is rather flattering." Ashe felt even more embarrassed, but she allowed herself to approach the fountain and sit beside him. She stared down at her feet, his feet, the grass, the flowers, the trees…gods, anything but his very bare upper half beside her.
"You do this every morning, Balthier?" she inquired, trying to ease the tension. He stood up again and went back to his toiletries. He picked up a small metal comb and began tending to his hair as if her being there wasn't an intrusion at all.
"Why not?" he asked, pulling the comb through his short, light brown locks. Ashe looked at him out of the corner of her eye, seeing him use his small mirror to view the sides of his head while he combed. Her eyes were drawn again to his figure, seeing his arms flex as he tended to his hair. Since he had always been clad in shirt and vest, she was not at all surprised at how fair his skin was, only a few shades darker than her own.
She looked away again as she spied his eyes watching her in the mirror. "Don't you get any sleep at night? Or do you spend all your time grooming?" she asked.
He smiled and returned the comb to his pouch. "I get all the sleep I need, my lady. I usually find time for a nap during the day whenever Vaan opens his mouth."
She grinned at his joke, and she allowed herself to relax a bit more. He was not offended at her invasion of his privacy. Ashe determined to not let herself be too distracted just because he was a very attractive man without a shirt standing just a foot away. It was improper, and besides, shirt or no, he was a pirate, a thief, and a rogue.
She had more important things to consider. Like their impending voyage to Draklor. Or the restoration of her throne. Or…oh gods, he was stretching now. She continued to watch out of the corner of her eye as Balthier linked his fingers and stretched his arms far over his head, a few joints cracking to his satisfaction. Now he was just teasing her, she reckoned and scooted further away from where he stood. Ashe pretended to be thoroughly interested in a small patch of flowers beside the shrine as he continued to lean from side to side, stretching like he was preparing to enter a foot race. This exercising nonsense had gone on for what Ashe considered to be an obscene amount of time. He had some nerve, she groaned internally, focusing as best she could on the flowers in front of her.
His stretching routine completed, Balthier uncorked another vial and a warm, woody smell entered her nostrils. She had always smelled the scent vaguely if she had fought beside him or walked near him in their travels, but this was a much more intense experience. It was a warm, soothing scent, and she watched him dab a small amount of the cologne onto his neck. She closed her eyes, inhaling the fragrance.
"I can tell that I have chosen the right cologne, Princess," he stated wickedly, dabbing a bit more on his neck to spite her. "I will have to restock when we reach Archades."
The mention of their journey brought Ashe back to reality, and she stood up then. She really had to go. Maybe the others would rise soon, and she didn't need to get caught with a shirtless pirate. "Speaking of, how far do you think we ought to travel today?"
Balthier considered her query, refastening the cork on the cologne vial. "I reckon if we make haste today we could reach the Salikawood by evening. The fiends are fewer and less antagonistic there."
Ashe saw her out and went for it. "Then I will leave you to your business. I should go wake the others."
"Wait," he said suddenly, and the Princess almost thought she heard disappointment in his voice at her decision to depart. But any true feelings he may have had were quickly masked by his usual grin. "The sun isn't even up yet, let them rest. Besides, I hear the sunrise over the Highwaste is a sight to behold."
She could not escape him. Instead, she sat on the ground and leaned against the shrine, looking up into the sky. The last of the stars were dwindling away and a pink glow was beginning to mingle with the deep blue hues of the dying night. Balthier tied the toiletry bag and reattached it to his belt. He sat down on the ground beside her and looked up along with her.
His bare arm was inches away from her own, and she could feel goosebumps rising on her flesh. What was with her this morning? It was just Balthier, and it was just a sunrise. Wasn't it? The pink color was spreading more and more with each passing second, signaling the dawn's near arrival. And probably matching the color of her face, she thought darkly. "Balthier?" she inquired.
"Yes, Princess?" he replied, neither of them breaking their eyes away from the sky.
"We get covered in blood and grime every day on this journey. Why do you go through this routine each morning?"
She heard him clear his throat, and she was startled at the serious tone he took with her. "If I meet my death in battle today, defending your stolen kingdom no less, it wouldn't do to meet my maker covered in filth, would it? No, start every new day afresh; enjoy life as a free citizen of the world. If I look death in the eye today and lose, I fully intend to look my best when I do so."
Ashe turned to him in surprise at his admission. The pirate had never been so open, and she had not known the extent of his loyalty to her. "Balthier, I had no idea. I had not realized how truly committed you were. I am sorry if I ever doubted your sincerity."
He chuckled then. "Oh Princess," he said as his laughter grew louder. "I am just kidding. Look how serious you are! I only engage in these activities because I can't be the leading man without a bit of spit and polish in the morning. If you could see the look on your face right now. Ha!"
She rolled her eyes at his little trick. Ashe took back every nice thing she had just thought about him. He played her like a fiddle! The Princess was thoroughly embarrassed at all the events of that morning, and it had barely started. She stood up hastily, wanting to put as much ground between her and the sky pirate as possible.
He reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Wait!" She turned to scold him for daring to intrude on her personal space, but she supposed after her peeping activities she no longer had the right to be upset. But he had not grabbed her wrist for any other reason than for what he now said. "You're going to miss it!"
She remembered the sunrise and sat back down beside him in a huff. At the very least, she would not give him the satisfaction of knowing how he had gotten to her that morning. The pinkish sky turned lighter as the sun made its climb over the eastern ridge beyond the mountains. It was just as beautiful as he had claimed it would be, and then some. She couldn't help gasping in delight at the rising star in the sky.
When the sunrise was satisfactory to Balthier, he stood back up and brushed off his trousers. He picked up his clothing from the rocks, but the shirt was still too wet to put back on. "I don't suppose you know a magick spell for quick drying of cloth?" he muttered.
She stood up along with him and shook her head with a small smile. It was definitely time to be getting back now. Ashe walked back towards the camp, followed by the sky pirate. As the rest of the camp arose for the start of their new day, Ashe felt like she had experienced something that morning. She could not quite put her finger on what it was, but her more impetuous thoughts crept into her head as the group sat to breakfast, and she was somewhat disappointed to discover that Balthier was once again fully clothed.
Getting up early had had many rewards for Ashelia B'Nargin Dalmasca that day, and she vowed that watching the sunrise was an activity she would undoubtedly pursue from then on. And if a shirtless pirate happened to be there at the same time, then that was just fine with her.