"Suppose for a moment you were to defeat Vayne… What then? You cannot simply rebuild your kingdom with the only proof of your birthright stolen. Without that, the Gran Kiltias on Bur-Omisace cannot recognize you as the rightful heir."

"But Uncle - "

"You may yet be a Princess, but without proof of your identity, you are powerless. You will remain with me. We do nothing till the time is right. "

"I cannot just sit around and wait!"

Balthier yawned lazily as the Marquis and Ashe argued. Vaan was standing in a corner, holding Penelo's hand, but he wasn't looking at her. He was looking at Balthier.

Balthier pretended not to notice, but those bright blue eyes were burning a hole through his skin. It took all the will power he could muster not to turn around and to stare right back. An idea occurred to him then - a way to ask Vaan the unspoken question he longed to express without doing so in words. A devil's smile appeared on his lips, and he turned to face Vaan.

Surprised by the sudden acknowledgement of his own stare, Vaan turned away and flushed. But Balthier refused to back down; he maintained his smile, waiting patiently for Vaan's eyes to meet his again.

It was only a matter of time. And when Vaan did look up at him, his gaze was filled with a submissive questioning, a yearning for the invisible wall between them to be torn down. Balthier recognized it and knew that a little game might be in order. A game he had played thousands of times with potential bits of evening entertainment he had courted at a thousand different bars, markets, and hideaways. The thrill of the hunt - it was always the thing he enjoyed the most.

He walked suddenly over to the conference table and sat on it, interrupting Ashe and her Uncle. "Incidentally, what is the going rate for rescuing Princesses these days? Food would be a start - the good stuff, mind you."

Ondore's nose crinkled and he looked murderously at the sky pirate, who grinned triumphantly in response. Ashe held her hands up to the sky, as if praying to the Gods for strength.

"The Empire is destroying everything we hold dear and all you can think about is what reward you'll get? Of all the insufferable…"

"My Lady…please. Control yourself." Ondore snapped. He turned again to Balthier, who was once again challenging Vaan with his stare - daring him to find the hidden words in his eyes. Fran sighed as she watched Vaan…it was clear the boy wasn't as ignorant as he seemed, for he saw what Balthier was doing, and his response was one of confusion and nervousness. More and more his handsome face flushed and his palms became sweatier, but Penelo seemed to take no notice. She was blissfully unaware of Vaan's uncomfortable shifting from one foot to the other, and his frequent re-moistening of his lips.

"Your reward can be arranged, sir, but it will take some time."

"Time enough for a bath, I hope. Dirty business, you know. Ah, best bring a change of clothes too."

As the group began to leave the room, Vaan waited until Balthier was close by. When they two were the only ones left, he reached out and opened his mouth, as if to say something, but Balthier interrupted him by brushing a hand through the boy's hair and whispering, "I wonder how big the beds are in this place…"

He laughed at Vaan as he recoiled, stuttering. The pirate practically skipped down the hall to a room one of the servants directed him to, but before he opened the door, Fran blocked him.

"Why are you playing with him?"

Balthier shrugged. "Just having a bit of fun is all."

"It will make things more difficult if you hurt his feelings."

"Fran, honestly. Do you really think he will stick around now that he has his girl back?"

He turned away from her and leaned on the door frame. For an instant he allowed himself to look sad.

"It's not like they ever do once they get what they want."

"Come now. He is a boy, not yet old enough to have his heart corrupted by the world. If you commit to him, he will not leave you easily." Fran explained.

"Are you so sure of that?" he answered bitterly. "Besides, who ever said I was really interested?"

"I know you. You are not that sadistic with men. Only with women."

The sky pirate laughed. "You know me all too well, then."

Fran stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. "You are happy when you are near him. That is all you need to know."

Then she closed her door behind herself, and Balthier went off into the bathroom, planning a very long bath so he could think.

Turning on the water, he slowly unbuttoned his vest, yanked off his shirt, and threw off his boots. The bathroom itself was very beautiful - the tile was all different shades of blue and there were hanging plants from the ceiling. A blue tinted shower curtain hung over the claw-footed, enormous tub, and a large window revealing the sky and clouds around the city sat above it. After he had undressed completely, he happily submerged himself completely in the steaming water, not coming up for air for over a minute.

When he arose, he knew immediately he wasn't alone.

He could see Vaan because of the mirror hanging over the sink. He was standing in the shadows of the adjacent, pitch black room, looking through the crack of the door. Balthier heard his heavy breathing. He saw his intense eyes as the light of the bathroom lamps reflected in them.

At first he didn't let on that he knew of his presence. He picked up the washcloth and soap and began to scrub his neck and his arms with a large grin on his face, enjoying this game. Then after a few moments, he called out.

"Would you like to come in and join me? It's a very pleasant bath. And there's more room than just one person needs."

His face dark with passion, Vaan entered the light and waited expectantly. Dripping water on the floor, Balthier stepped out of the tub and walked over to him, forcing him to back up against the wall.

Searching his eyes, the pirate nodded as understood suddenly what the boy was doing. "This isn't your first time, is it, my young thief?"

Vaan kissed him. It was a warm, passionate kiss full of wanting, but not clumsy in the slightest. Slicking his tongue in between Balthier's lips, he swallowed the saliva within and drank up the humming deep in the man's throat, pushing his fingers through his crimped hair and yielding to his increasing insistence.

Grabbing him around the waist, Balthier pushed against him, forcing his thigh between his legs. Feeling the pressure against his groin, Vaan threw his head back and moaned, raking his fingernails down Balthier's chest and panting.

They stumbled into the bedroom, Balthier still dripping over the carpet. Vaan's desperate fingers pulled at his clothes, fumbling with the belts, becoming tangled in the chaos. When they reached the bed Balthier wasted no time - practically ripping Vaan's pants off, he took the throbbing erection in front of him in his wet hand and stroked it carefully, causing the boy's hips to buck and for his lips to call out Balthier's name.

Ah, this moment. When someone was so vulnerable underneath him, so exposed in their physical weakness and desperation for release that they begged him for mercy - it was what made life worth living. Looking at Vaan's eyes as they rolled back in his head, feeling the beads of precum leaking from the tip and over his slick fingers, feeling the sheets become a puddle of sweat and water around them…

"I want you…please…"

Balthier raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"

"Yes….Nnngh! God…put it in…please…."

Reaching around to that tight entrance, the moment he touched it Vaan automatically parted his legs as wide as he could, preparing himself as he squirmed underneath Balthier. Crossing his arms over his eyes, he waited expectantly as two fingers entered him, then three. They came in and out with ease, finally moving deep enough to hit that heavenly euphoria as his hands shook he gasped for air all the harder.

Balthier rammed his tongue into the boy's throat as he thrusted himself forwards. Faster and faster he went, taking his fingers and teasing the little bits of flesh on his chest until he practically screamed within the kiss.

That hammering against the one spot inside him was too much, and at last Vaan came, his essence coating Balthier's stomach and splattering his face.

"Vaannnnn…." Balthier whispered as he too felt the rush hit him - he clamped his hands down on Vaan's shoulders and clenched his teeth until the spots in front of his eyes faded and he collapsed next to him.

"…Wow…." Vaan said in a daze, curling up next to his partner. Balthier threw his arm around him and rolled over onto his back, cherishing the feeling of cold air entering his lungs.

"Wow is right. I must say Vaan…that was definitely in my top five."

Vaan smiled and littered Balthier's face with kisses, resting finally on top of his chest.

"But aren't you really with Fran?"

"I make it a point never to become involved with business partners. Although Fran certainly doesn't leave a man in wanting."

Vaan's mouth twisted sadly. Balthier laughed.

"Besides, I'm the sort of rogue who doesn't involve himself with love and other such things. It makes the heart too honest. And that doesn't do when you're a sky pirate."

"So…you just…"

"I'm a one-night-stand sort, yes. That's the way I live. And tomorrow you'll have your girl, and we'll both not say another word about it. At least we'll know we had an enjoyable evening, yes?"

There was a pause while Vaan rolled away from Balthier and laid still. Balthier sighed and gently pulled him back, lifting his chin up in his hand.

"Although…with a pretty face like yours….I could make exceptions to my own policies."

Those bright blue eyes again. How they disarmed him. Wanted to make him tell every scrap of truth that was hiding in the folds of his heart. And that kiss…how sweet it was, how accepting. There would never be a moment of betrayal, or dishonesty, or unkindness. Not with Vaan.

He had always made it a practice never to share himself with any lover - after all, the worst could come to pass and he might actually fall in love with them. But Fran was right…Vaan was still young. He had not yet drawn that line between love and lust - a sexual partner and a life partner. He did not deserve to be lied to.

"You want the truth? Alright, my young thief. That night when you came to talk with me on the balcony of the ship…I didn't sleep at all because I thought of you. I fell for you. But you and I both know it's not meant to be. "

"I'd leave Penelo for you…I would!" Vaan begged.

"You know that's not true."

He heard Vaan begin to cry in the dark. Gently he rubbed his back and held him closer, silently praying that this moment would last forever..

"Just remember Vaan that I'll always love you. You'll always be my port in a storm."

"I love you too…"

The pirate then kissed the thief one last time until they both fell asleep, knowing in the morning that they would once again be friends, nothing more. But at least they would know when they looked at one another that there would never again be walls between them - they would always understand one another, even when there were no more words left to say.