Many thanks to Arsinyk, my beta! Hope this one is better than the last six!
Over the next weeks, the Airmen recovered quickly, each man taking up his tasks once again. Miraculously, Luvander hadn't fallen ill at all, nor had Ivory. Balfour, personally, couldn't get out of the medical wing fast enough. The week or two of sickness changed almost nothing. Ivory still played the piano just as much; Ace still cheated at darts; Rook was still a jackass; Raphael and Balfour still endured endless torment for acting like Cindies. The only thing that had changed was Balfour's realization of his feelings, feelings he could never let slip. He changed to make up for that change inside him, becoming more distant, more reserved. He stopped meeting Adamo's eyes, forced himself to not look at the man unless the situation demanded it. Was this the way it had been with Amery and his unnamed lover? Had he been forced to write a love letter to nobody because everyone around him would disapprove of his affections for the woman? These questions haunted Balfour now, as he sat in his room, waiting up for the sound of the men getting in from the raid.
The scratching of his pen and the ticking of the clock were deafening as he wrote away the seconds and minutes until the raucous entry of the Airmen who had flown out that night. He couldn't sleep until they made it back safely–another change from when he had been sick. Before it had only been one or two nights a week, restlessly waiting, but now...now, he couldn't sleep no matter who was scheduled to fly. He hoped he would get over this nervousness soon. All this sleepless worrying was beginning to take its toll, emotionally and physically—not to mention that if Rook ever found out, he'd call him a pussy-footed, pillow-biting Cindy and likely destroy more of his books or something similarly important to him.
In a cacophony of swearing, the team came back, and Balfour turned out his light and lay down, resigning to getting what meager sleep he could. This was how his nights usually went if he wasn't on a raid himself. On raids, he was intensely focused, more so than usual, and that was saying something. He was hyper-aware of his teammates' positioning, the positions of the Ke-Han below, everything. Adamo had said that he was becoming a better recon, but it was only because he was always worried that someone else would get hurt on his time.
Finally, and none too soon, the weekend came, and, with it, a trip into town. Balfour was just happy to be out of the Airman for a while. He wasn't planning on meeting with any of the women on the list, but he carried it with him out of habit. Predictably, he went to his favorite cafe to hide, knowing well that none of the other airmen ever went there—and he didn't ever want them to. He bought a coffee and sat down to write, poems, letters, just anything to expel what he was feeling. He would hide this book away later so no one would ever find it, but for now, he wasn't worried about getting caught. The quiet music was soothing and relaxing and he felt the tension seeping from his shoulders. He was safe here.
"Safe" was a relative word, he realized the moment a fight broke out among the patrons, two men yelling and throwing blows, fighting over a woman was trying to break them up, embarrassed by their actions. He stood then, and just left, not wanting to get pulled into-–or blamed for-–the brawl. Despite the fact that he had never once started a fight and only joined in one or two if he absolutely had to, he was an Airman, thus the first to be pointed at when damage was done. Rook had given them all a bad name, in his opinion. He wasn't fond of fighting, not even on the back of his dragon. The only difference was that when he was with Anastasia, he had to fight. Here, he had the option to leave, and leave he did.
He wandered through upper Miranda, just looking around, trying to relax. It wasn't working. Frustrated, he pulled out his list and began to ask around after some of the women. He approached a portly woman roughly in her fourties with scraggly hair and too much makeup. Smiling at her, he glanced at the list. "Excuse me, Madam? Do you know a woman by the name of Andrada?"
Unfortunately, luck didn't seem to be with him.
She turned, face contorted in fury as she bared her teeth slightly. "What is it with you men and trying to ruin every good girl's reputation?" she barked, actually pushing Balfour, who stepped away so that he was out of her range.
"Forgive me, madam, but I'm not planning on ruining anyone's reputation. I am actually looking for an old friend of my brother's. His name was Amery," he protested, voice sweet, trying to keep her calm. It wasn't working.
Her face went even redder. "That pompous son of a bitch? He had no friends. The ones he had, he was just using either for sex or to do his dirty work," she snarled. "He was a manipulative bastard, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying!"
Balfour backed away slowly, appalled, not wanting to hear such things. He had never seen a woman act out so badly, nor had he heard such nasty things about Amery. He gave up on reasoning with her and high-tailed it out of there, retreating as quickly and politely as possible. He hadn't been planning on nearly breaking up a small group of women gossiping just outside of one of the more popular teahouses.
"Oh, sorry," he said hastily, making one of the women laugh flirtatiously and saunter forward.
"Oh my," she said, looking him up and down and causing him to go bright red. "Look what we have here. What's a fine specimen like you doing up in a place like this? See, I thought all the handsome ones stayed away from upper Miranda because The Esar would cut off…ah, certain parts of their anatomy."
Balfour shook his head, amazed by the rumors that had apparently spread—not yet realizing that he was being hit on—and informed her that no, no such law existed, which only made the woman laugh a bit more and shake her head. A brunette across from her rolled her eyes and told her to stop being so obvious, all the while sending lecherous grins Balfour's direction.
"You look like somebody I know," the first woman said, frowning a bit.
"Well, ah, I must just have one of those faces," Balfour said quietly, nervous now.
"One of those faces, eh?" the woman said, walking over, running her finger over his shoulder. It was unnerving, having someone so close, and he truly didn't like having her touching him like that—way too intimate, way too familiar. He stepped away from her, frowning deeply. No, this wasn't helping his mood.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
She giggled and simpered, batting her long eyelashes. "Oh, you have the most beautiful eyes," she said, reaching up to smooth her hair, tossing it over her shoulder.
"I see," he said quietly, nodding once and backing away. "I'm not interested, thank you."
"Not interested?" the woman asked, laughing. "Oh, well, that's quite a pity. I'm probably the best you'll ever have." She sighed and backed away, sauntering off to giggle with her gaggle of friends.
He couldn't help but heave a relieved sigh. Such experiences were rare for him and most unpleasant. It wasn't like he could actually tell these women why he wasn't interested, and the woman who had been hitting on him had been quite fetching; however, he felt nothing for her. She did nothing for him, anyway. It would have been impossible for him to even pretend that she was the one he really wanted even had he been desperate enough to try. He was not soft curves and a simpering voice. He was strong, stubborn, and took no nonsense. Not to mention, Balfour sincerely doubted he would be in charge during—
He shook his head quickly, dislodging those thoughts, and kept walking, heading toward the palace, mentally chastising himself for letting himself get carried away with thoughts of Adamo…again, this time, dirty ones.
Sighing, he looked up at the dome of the palace and then shook his head, silently cursing the laws of this society with a soft, polite smile on his face. This was Balfour. He could think the worst things, even plot someone's doom—well, perhaps not quite that—and all anyone ever saw was a polite smile. Lately, that smile had been fading to nothing. He had given up on that mask, but now, that mask was returning to its rightful place. If the sickness had done any good for him, it had given him a bit of strength. He knew what he needed to be, now, and would fulfill that role—the role of a gentleman, a strong soldier, and an excellent recon pilot—without fail, without wavering toward his more Cindy tendencies, and without ever letting anyone know his more secret desires.
A few hours later, he went back to the Airman, but couldn't figure out what to do: eat something, or read. He spent some time rummaging in the cabinets before deciding on just grabbing a book, as he wasn't hungry anyway. He hadn't really wanted to come back; he had only come back because it was his turn to raid, tonight. Reading, he decided, was a better way to spend his time, and much less awkward than looking for food that wasn't there—not to mention, he wouldn't end up making a grocery list that he couldn't shop for until tomorrow. He went to his room, grabbed one of his books on historical treatises, and sat down on a couch, silent, curled into himself.
Feeling eyes on him, he looked up. Raphael was standing by the arm of the couch, a book in his hand. Balfour had always been slightly fond of Raphael, a cultured man who shared his love of books.
"There is plenty of room if you wish to sit," he offered, scooting even further to his left, pressing up against the arm of the couch to give his friend even more room.
Raphael had only one flaw in Balfour's eyes: He had a flair for the dramatics…in the worst of ways.
"I had been planning to lie down and read," Raphael whined, earning a clank of piano keys from across the room.
Unable to discern if that was a clank of complaint or support, Balfour just kept up his inviting smile.
"Yes, I realize that," he said quietly. "You often lie down while you read, which is why I am at the end of the couch. There is plenty of room."
"What a fucking Cindy thing to notice," probably Rook snarled. Both Balfour and Raphael ignored him. Instead, Raphael huffed out a breath in answer and threw himself onto the couch.
"Alas, I must resign myself to reading in utter anguish!" he cried, his legs and arms going every which way. Another clanking chord expressed complete distaste for the theatrics that would have usually set Balfour to laughing quietly. Instead, he stood.
"You win," he muttered, walking away to sit quietly in a corner chair where no one would bother him all because they wanted to lie down and read. Instead, a dart landed by his ear. He plucked it and threw it in the general direction of the dart board, missing horribly.
"Fucking Cindy can't even throw right!" Rook growled, wheeling on him. "If you're going to throw it, throw it right. Hit the damn target!"
Ace just laughed and pluked the dart from Rook's hand. "Yeah, that's why he's never allowed to join, remember"
Raphael was looking at him in utter shock. Perhaps he hadn't meant to make him move, but Balfour didn't care. He wanted to be left alone. Of course, even this drew unwanted attention from the worst possible source.
"You feeling alright?" came a gruff voice over his left shoulder that just made him want to grin and groan at the same time. He did neither, only turned and looked up to the concerned face.
"I'm quite alright, sir," he said politely, keeping his expression schooled as he looked just a bit past Adamo's right ear. "Just wanted to read, is all."
Adamo gave him one of those indiscernible looks, and then walked off, leaving Balfour dizzy and confused. He hated how that man could confuse him so easily, how he could make him short of breath and burning hot and love everything and hate the whole world all at once. After a moment to recollect his composure, he stood and retreated to his room, glancing at the schedule as he went. He was glad he had as he was on raid tonight. Perhaps he should get some sleep after all. He locked his door and slipped on his uniform before lying down so he could jump onto Anastasia with no delay.
A few hours later, the raid siren was ringing and he was down the porthole and on Anastasia's back and out into the air in no time. He breathed in deeply, letting the crisp autumn air wake him completely, then stroked his girl's neck.
"Hey," he murmured to her, almost sure the wind had whipped away his words before she could even hear them.
"You have not been sleeping, little brother," Anastasia observed. She was very perceptive, a trait that Balfour was always proud of, no matter how inconvenient it could be at times.
"I haven't been able to rest lately. Come, let's watch after our friends, shall we?"
That night's raid was very quick and to the point. They simply had to torch one of the Ke-Han watch towers. Within a few hours, Balfour was heading back to bed. He didn't realize until the next morning that something was off within his room. He went through his things, finding everything where he had put it, including the papers under his mattress and the book in the false bottom of his drawer. Well, then, what was missing? He couldn't figure it out, no matter how he tried, so he shoved it out of his mind stubbornly. He shouldn't have been surprised that one of the Airmen had broken into his room…so what was bothering him about last night?
Whoever had broken in had also bothered to lock his door back, he realized. Or, perhaps, no one had broken in at all, and he was just being paranoid. Grumbling to himself, he put pepper on his eggs, then flipped them, letting that side finish cooking. This place was just making him paranoid. That was probably it. Paranoia sounded better than someone actually locking the door back after breaking in. It made more sense. With that pleasant thought, he sat down and only ate about half of his eggs, then ended up just staring at them. He had thought that those had been clever hiding places for his journal and those papers, but now he was considering rethinking them. Not many places to hide them with cement floors and no closets, but he had to find new places. He had a nasty feeling that someone might have found them. Yes, he was becoming very paranoid. He would know if someone saw them, though. They would, doubtless, be acting very differently toward him.
What kind of idiot Cindy falls in love with his Chief Sergeant, anyway, a little voice in his mind that sounded disturbingly like Rook's asked. Clearly, this idiot Cindy, Balfour answered silently, then sighed, putting his face in his hands, as he realized that he was talking to voices in his head.
"You win, Anastasia," he muttered, clearing off his plate and going back to bed. He was exhausted, had to be, or he wouldn't be feeling this way.