Ahahahah…oh god I suck at being timely. Also UNDERAGE DRINKING LOL.


Vaan set them down on a picturesque strand—empty—for it could only be reached by airship, and even then not easily. The Harsh Dawn barely fit; landing had been rather tricky, and the whole vessel was tilted into the wet sand that sucked at the left landing struts. The precarious position at least insured their privacy. The desire to wash was becoming an almost physical craving. Larsa had sand in his…in his everywhere, not to put to fine a point upon it, and he was by nature a very fastidious young man.

He was first out, and hastily peeled off the borrowed shirt (literally, it was that filthy) and gave it a halfhearted shaking-out at the riverbank. The motion sent him into a sneezing fit again. Vaan hadn't bothered, but only removed any items of his wardrobe likely to rust and dove in still clothed. Penelo, who turned out to be most prepared, was in her cabin changing into a bathing suit. Larsa turned back to the ship when he heard her yelp as she sprinted down the hot metal stairs, and at that moment had his first encounter with Dalmascan swimwear. The scraps of fabric that made up her suit were less than a quarter of what well-bred Archadian ladies wore to the seaside, and the top half did miraculous things to her svelte dancer's bustline. Then she passed him on the way to the water—and he saw that the triangle of fabric over her tailbone didn't cover any of her toned, shapely…

"Penelo, you're not decent!" he choked, immediately flicking his eyes down to the sand pooling around her heels.

"What?" she said, stopping just short of the darker band of wet sand that marked the riverbank.

"I cannot help but notice you are wearing scarcely enough to constitute a pair of pocket handkerchiefs," he said, addressing the back of her knees out a deeply ingrained sense of propriety that eked out a win over the teenage boy's desire to ogle her backside.

"Of course not. Don't you know what happens when you get leather wet?" she answered, as if prancing around nearly naked in the company of the opposite sex was a common occurrence. Then again, Dalmasca was very hot. Perhaps it really was—andher modesty as he was changing at her flat was for an entirely different reason. He decided now would be a good time to toss his shirt on a nearby boulder and wade in. Past his waist. As quickly as possible.

The chill made him gasp, and at the moment was exactly what he needed. He took a breath and dropped all the way below the surface of the murky water. When he rose again, his wet hair left little rivulets of brown water running down his chest. He wrinkled his nose. There wasn't any soap, but he did what he could about the worst of it, scrubbing at his shoulder-length hair as vigorously as he could stand. Vaan had given up on the pretense of washing and was merrily tormenting Penelo, who seemed to be giving as good as she got, judging from the sputtering and cursing that issued from his direction. Larsa pointedly distanced himself from their horseplay with a few strong kicks, but as soon as Penelo's back was turned he swept a huge wave in her direction using the rare and ancient technick of pushing the force of a blow beyond one's physical reach. His old swordmaster would've had an apoplectic fit over the frivolous use to which Larsa was putting his teachings, but he was a continent away and none the wiser. Penelo whipped around, wiping the water from her eyes in shock, and promptly decided he was now fair game.

She finally called a truce after a particularly spectacular coughing fit on Vaan's part. Larsa's nose and throat were sore enough from the repeated dunking that he was more than ready to adhere to her terms, which involved accompanying Vaan to fetch cold drinks and towels from the ship. They returned with their burdens and laid them down on the sand. Vaan rooted around in the tiny portable icebox and withdrew two amber bottles of unmistakable shape, plus one squat clear one that was filled with something shockingly orange. Larsa gave him a doubtful look. "Nuh-uh. You're too young to be drinking," Vaan said.

"Vaan, please. I rule an empire. I believe I can manage not to get roaring drunk on one bottle of lager."

"Kidding. Here," he said, grinning, and retrieved a third amber bottle from under the ice.

Vaan popped the cap off with his teeth, making Penelo wince, and took a swig. "You people do better wine, but we do better beer."

"Let me try it and I may agree," Larsa said, tapping the bottlecap.

Penelo shook her head and added a dramatic, long-suffering sigh. "It's a pirate thing. Give it here." He did. She got up and inserted the bottle into a conveniently shaped section of the landing gear, popped the cap off, and returned it to him before doing her own. "Me, like any other normal person, prefers not to risk chipping a tooth for the sake of machismo."

Vaan waved her concern aside. It was an old game. Neither of them ever won.

Larsa swallowed a mouthful of his beer and decided after some brief consideration he preferred wine, but the brew was quite palatable and he didn't care to break the comfortable silence with a complaint.

"Do you ever wish you could just run away from it all?" Vaan said finally.

"Sometimes," he replied. "I envy you the freedom to come and go as you please, beholden to no one. But without a Solidor on the throne, the former senators and their sons would shred each other like dogs in the betting pits, and Archadia in the process."

"Makes you wonder why they want the job so bad," Vaan observed, in a rare moment of sagacity.

"Indeed. I was the only one of my father's children who never cared for power…and now I have more than any man ought to hold."

"Larsa…" Penelo whispered.

"But I will do my duty, for the people of Archadia—and Dalmasca," he reassured her (and to some degree, himself).

The concern that creased her forehead eased, but not entirely. "Sun's going down," Penelo said wistfully.

"Yeah," Vaan agreed. "Guess it's time to go."

-----

Kytes was inconspicuously awaiting them at the Harsh Dawn's berth with Larsa's imperial finery wrapped a plain paper package. "It's all there, I swear," he said, presenting it to its rightful owner and melting again into the background so they could say their goodbyes.

Larsa tucked it under his arm. "Well." he said hesitantly, hoping to tease out his last few minutes of freedom. Penelo took that as her cue to hug him tight, something more than a friendly goodbye and tinged faintly with desperation. "Take care of yourself, okay?" she whispered into his hair, just before she pulled away. His lips barely brushed her temple, wishing he could have given her more.

Vaan scuffed his heels and 'ahemed' uncomfortably until Penelo said: "None of your Clan buddies are around to see. Just hug him, you ninny."

Vaan made a face at her, but did anyway. "Basch knows how to find us, if you ever run into the sort of trouble a pair of sky pirates might be able to get you out of."

"I know. Thank you."

"You should really be getting back," Penelo said. "They have to make at least a token effort at arresting us, and I'd rather not put Queen Ashelia in an awkward position."

"I plan to turn myself in at the Archadian consulate. They shall make of it what they will," he answered. "Til next we meet. There will be a next, won't there?"

Vaan and Penelo exchanged looks. "Oh, count on it," she said.