"You, boy. Come with us."
"Who me?" Vaan asked innocently. The guards only answered him with a chilling stare. Vaan smiled and bowed smugly, knowing that his plan had worked.
They were getting in to see the Marquis.
All day long he had marched around Bhujerba, planting rumors not-so inconspicuously that Captain Basch Von Rosenberg was indeed alive, contrary to popular belief. And not only that, despite the doubtful eye of the public, he himself was the Captain, calling the Marquis Ondore a liar and a lap dog of the Empire. Those that saw him spread these rumors in person laughed, knowing Vaan was a might too young to be the infamous Dalmascan traitor, but still it had gotten the reaction he desired. People in the streets were speaking of Basch. They were doubting the Marquis's word. And surely, as that happened, the Marquis's servants noticed and would have Vaan and his friends brought into the safety of the estate, so a game plan could be formulated.
The haughtiness he displayed in his grin would surely have made Balthier himself proud.
It was then that Balthier, Basch, and Fran noticed Vaan's "plight" and made their presence known. As soon as Vaan saw Balthier coming he played up his victory, turning his bow into an even more theatrical move to catch his attention.
"My friends have been helping me bring down your master's reputation, good sirs." he said, gesturing to his companions. "Perhaps he will want to see them too?"
One of the guards grunted and nodded to a few of his subordinates. "They'll come with us as well. The Marquis will see you soon."
As soon as the guards had turned, Vaan jumped in the air victoriously, congratulating himself. With hopeful eyes he turned to Balthier, waiting for a note of praise. The sky pirate passed by and said nothing.
"Excellent work, Vaan." Fran offered. Vaan's crestfallen face lit up a little at her comment, and even more so as it triggered Balthier to turn around and smile deviously.
"Indeed…good job, Vaan."
Then he walked on ahead. Vaan smiled triumphantly and ran after them, using the excuse to emphasize his victory by asking Balthier a hundred questions.
"I did really good, huh?"
"Did you see the way I was in the tavern? They ALL were staring at me and…"
"I really got people to talk about Basch again!"
Instead of acting annoyed, which Balthier actually was, he interrupted Vaan with a hearty laugh. "Enough, Vaan. Don't blow your horn too much. You might find yourself out of air before too long."
"…What does that mean?" Vaan asked.
"Humility is a virtue." Fran explained
"You guys always say stuff I don't understand…why won't you explain it to me?"
Balthier laughed again, wiping the sweat from off his forehead. The sun was bearing down upon them, a bright blinding dot in the middle of the cloudless blue of the sky. No matter how many times he looked at it, he always smiled.
"You'll understand one day young thief." He said as he ruffled Vaan's hair. "For now enjoy your ignorance."
Vaan joined Balthier in laughter, though he still didn't really understand what he was saying. It made him a little sad…as he felt distant from the one person he actually admired.
The instant Vaan had found out that Balthier was a sky pirate his opinions had completely changed about him. There was nothing he had ever wanted more in his life than to be a sky pirate, and the fact that he actually knew someone that might be able to help him achieve his goal was thrown in to sharp relief. It had never really mattered much to him what people thought of him. He never really cared about anything except his friends. But suddenly, it mattered. Something outside of the world that he had lived in for so long mattered…and it mattered more than anything else did.
He wanted to impress Balthier.
And yet he was always laughing at him, making fun of his naivety, and Vaan always felt like he was chasing after him, never able to catch up.
The first time he had tried to prove his worth, which he wasn't really used to doing in the first place, being a leading figure to so many orphans in Rabanastre, he had failed miserably. It was when Balthier and Fran had first shown him The Strahl as they were about to make their way to the Lhusu mines to rescue Penelo. He had never seen anything more beautiful in his entire life.
"You guys really are sky pirates!!" he shouted, unable to maintain any sort of dignified demeanor.
"Well we certainly aren't your local Chocobo breeders." Balthier said sarcastically. But his acrimony was short lived, as he watched Vaan's face light up at the sight of the airship. He watched him run to it and run his hand over the surface, feeling the metal coated in a thin layer of old dirt that muted its colors. All the scratches and paint chips of the years were right there before Vaan's eyes, and yet Balthier knew he didn't see them. Vaan saw what he also saw - freedom.
"In the skies there aren't laws and codes of conduct that you must abide by." the sky pirate mused. "There are no rules at all, if you don't want there to be."
"Rules are a necessary evil." Fran said.
"Indeed, Fran." Balthier answered. "I am too old to not know that fact, and too young to be able to accept it."
Despite herself, Fran smiled. "You will always be too young, then. By your definition."
"Perhaps so. Which is why I will always live in the sky, I think…the world does not suffer fools, nor can it win against them, am I right?"
"Which is why somehow you are still alive."
"Hm, well don't let my foolishness take all the credit." he laughed, checking his bag to see if he had everything he needed. "You've helped as well."
"Only the Gods know why."
Balthier decided it was then time to awake Vaan from his joyous, dream-like euphoria. "Look alive there, my young thief. It's not polite to grope a stranger, or did no one ever teach you that?"
Vaan instantly took his hand off the ship. "Oh, sorry. So, what's the speed like? Does it have weapons? Can it take on The Ifrit?"
"Well I could tell you, but that would be wasting words. Why don't you just see for yourself instead?"
Fran closed the back door behind the three of them and wasted no time in heading to the cockpit. Basch quickly joined her. Balthier tried to follow, but found himself deeply amused by Vaan's enthusiasm and continued to watch him run all around, greedily taking up his surroundings, reading all the messages on the monitors blinking on and off, and asking incessant questions about what every button, lever, and knob did in the place. His passion was just too genuine to ignore.
"This one is the generator pump, isn't it? It charges the igniter and gets the ship started if she needs a jump." Vaan said.
"Actually, that's the cloaking control panel. The boat can't fly when she's cloaked so we have one in the cockpit and back here to make sure we have access if we're boarded."
"Oh…" Vaan said, slightly embarrassed.
The sky pirate laughed and patted him on the back. "Don't be so glum, my man. You were almost right. The interface is practically the same, so it's natural you would get them mixed up. Come now, let's go find your girl."
"I've told you, Balthier. It's not really like that…Penelo's my…my…um…"
"You mean you haven't told her yet? What sort of thief are you my man if you can't steal a girl's affections?"
Then he had left.
Vaan felt his face redden with each passing second.
"…Well…that couldn't of gone any worse."
His eyes flitted up to a weapon case, filled with knives, swords, and guns of all shapes and sizes. It was then he realized that, being a criminal, Balthier might have done horrible things. He might have even killed people. He had no idea what he was truly like. And somehow he couldn't make himself care.
Vaan had never been one for thinking how he felt much. He just took the days on as they came, never planning ahead, enjoying himself when he could. Thinking when he was alone at night just made him sad anyway, so he never liked being by himself, and he never spoke of things that weren't important in the here and now.
His dream all these years had seemed far away and lofty to him, but now that it seemed so much closer, he had to ask himself what he truly wanted. He had to think about it. And he believed Balthier could help him find the right answer.
They had traveled across Ivalice to Bhujerba, cruising through the night on autopilot as the moogles cooked in the mess hall for Fran, Balthier, Basch, and Vaan. After they finished, Balthier wandered up to the observation deck, taking in the fresh air and gazing at the stars - tiny pinpricks of light on a dark blue backdrop. The misty gray clouds flew just barely underneath them like seawater. Vaan joined him soon after and leaned on the railing nearby.
"Can I fly the ship tomorrow?" he asked playfully.
"I would sooner trust my life to Ba'Gamnan."
"Ha ha, very funny."
The sky pirate closed his eyes and then opened one, letting it shift slyly towards Vaan.
"So pray tell, young thief, what matter of circumstance graces me with your presence this evening? Hmm? Surely you didn't come all the way up here just to ask me a question you already knew the answer to."
"Interested in a sky piracy apprenticeship? It's not exactly something that requires formal training. Or perhaps you want my advice on how to woo this girl of yours, eh?"
Vaan swallowed and continued to stutter through his words, trying to say something but not succeeding.
"Ever articulate, aren't we. Well, if it's the latter you want to know, then what I suggest to you is this."
He walked over to the boy and looked into his eyes. Vaan, surprised by this, looked back in a puzzled way, yet he saw nothing in Balthier's stare but genuine honesty.
"Tell her the truth."
Vaan laughed. "I've seen the way you talk to girls in bars. You certainly don't tell them the truth. You say stuff like," here he tried to mimic Balthier's smooth, conceited tone of voice. "'Your eyes are like the heavens themselves…and more beautiful heavens I could not hope to see even as I look upon them night after night.' Blah blah blah…"
"Love can take on many guises, Vaan. Normally I would tell young men such as yourself to practice the form of love that I do, which is meant for brief enjoyment. However, this girl seems a keeper and you seem to be a dedicated sort of man. So the way you should pursue your love is through sincerity."
"You don't believe that one person can love just one other person their whole life and be happy, then?" Vaan replied, looking very intently at Balthier.
"No, Vaan. That's not it in the slightest. I simply come from a different world than you do. I am a duke in the court of sin. A bishop in the realm of nighttime ideals. Morality is my party joke and honesty is my wool that I pull over the gullible flock's eyes. That is the way of the sky pirate. Surely as a thief you know at least some of this is true."
"I may be a thief…but I believe in being true to your word." Vaan defended himself. "And I know you do, too. Why else would you offer to help me rescue Penelo?"
Balthier smiled at him and began to leave.
"Touché . …You know, you remind me of myself, Vaan. You'll make a most excellent hero for your own story someday." he said behind him as he shut the door with a touch of a button. So Vaan was left by himself to think again, which never did him any good at all.
Balthier threw his shirt on the bed and threw himself down beside it not long after. The big windows let the moonlight drench the room, falling across his skin like a cold blanket. He heard the wind he had just felt upon his skin rattle against the panes as the ship cut through it like a knife. But all these sights and sounds brought him no comfort as Vaan's bright eyes burned into his memory.
"Bother and damn it all." he cursed, hitting the light switch next to the bed.
The next morning Balthier entered the cockpit, holding his head in pain.
"Good morning, my girl." he said rather half-heartedly to Fran, who did not acknowledge the comment.
"How much time do we have?"
"About twenty minutes until we reach Bhujerba."
"Very good." he yawned. "I'll just be napping here if you need me then."
He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, but did not go to sleep. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Fran asked him:
"Another sleepless night?"
"Ever the perceptive one." Balthier sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Fran…I can't stop thinking about him."
The confession did not seem to phase her. "You are a man who cannot cope with not having the things he wants." she replied.
"You're saying I want him more knowing that I can't have him?"
"Is that not obvious to you?"
"I suppose not." he laughed. Vaan and Basch then came into the cockpit, and Balthier was silent.
"Is that it?" Vaan asked excitedly, pointing to the now visible floating island.
"Indeed. The sky city of Bhujerba. It has been many years." Basch answered.
"Let's hurry up and land, so we can help Penelo!"
"Patience." Fran warned. They flew into port and docked the ship. Vaan hurried the rest of them off, practically pulling Balthier along.
"Can't a man get a spot of breakfast first before rescuing damsels in distress?" Balthier yawned. Fran raised her eyebrow at him.
"Especially after having absolutely no sleep whatsoever…"
"That's your own fault!" Vaan barked. "Penelo is waiting for us! We can't just sit around!"
"The mist is thick here." Fran commented, sniffing the air. "We should move on as quickly as possible."
"Right you are, then, Fran. Let's save your girl, Vaan, and get out of here while we can. And remember…" he said, pointing at Basch. "You're a dead man. For the Gods' sakes and ours, lay low. No names. Got it?"
"Of course." Basch said graciously.
"Right, Basch. Let's go." said Vaan energetically. Balthier grabbed his arm and yanked the boy backwards.
"Did you not hear what I just said, Vaan?!" he barked.
"Oh…" Vaan replied nervously. "Sorry."
"Don't let it happen again."
Balthier stormed ahead, clearly irritated. Vaan sighed and buried his hands in his pockets. "Great, another mess-up…"
"So how will we know where Penelo is? Aren't the mines pretty big?" Vaan asked as they stood in front of the Lhusu mines entrance.
"Not to worry. Our adversaries will let us know where they want us to be. " Balthier explained.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we meet with a trap or two down there." Basch added.
"Excuse me…" a young voice said behind them. They turned to see a violet-haired, handsome young boy smiling at them from his small stature. "I couldn't help but overhear…you are entering the mines, correct? Might I accompany you? I have business inside as well."
Balthier raised his eyebrow and was about to turn a cynical phrase when he was interrupted by Vaan, who saw yet another opportunity to impress Balthier by taking this seemingly helpless child under his wing.
"Sure, you can come. What's your name?"
"La-Lar…Lamont. At your service."
Vaan grinned, quite full of himself. "I'm Vaan, and this is Balthier, Fran, and…um…yeah." He stuttered, pointing at Basch but not knowing what to say. Finally his hand moved away and his egotistical smirk turned into a nervous smile. "Yeah. There's Balthier and Fran."
Basch rolled his eyes but bowed his head respectfully to 'Lamont.' Lamont smiled and shook Basch's hand, then shook everyone else's.
"Pleased to meet you all. Shall we go?"
"What business does a child have in the mines?" Basch whispered to Balthier as Lamont continued on ahead with Vaan. Vaan had a spring in his step as he bragged to Lamont about all the dangers they had faced so far and how he had taken every single one of them in stride. Lamont smiled and listened politely, very amused by Vaan's immaturity.
"His accent is Arcadian. Upper class dialect." Fran interjected.
"It might be best if we let events play out for a bit before we jump to conclusions." Balthier said. They all agreed and went inside.