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Update: Claret Sky

*bashes head against wall*

I seriously had zero intention of continuing this. The disjointed vignette style is difficult for me. But I am almost finished another playthrough of FFXII, and the plot bunny just keeps kicking me. There's so much more that can be done with this idea, it says, bashing me over the head.

So here I go. Updates will hopefully be frequent, but all rather short because it's just easier that way. A bit lighter on the angst, here, I'm hoping.

I'm posting this on FFnet as chapters, but I've done away with that here. There's not any actual significance to where I break or to the chapter titles, since each vignette is almost self-standing (with some exceptions) and is really a part in and of itself, so I'm just posting as a block here.

Link to previous part. Link to part 3.

Claret Sky - the oneshot that would not oneshot
Sunnepho
Bal/Vaan - M
Angst/Adventure/Romance


--

Penelo is quiet sometimes, and Vaan sits beside her, holding her hand.

Balthier feels as if he is intruding, a stranger in his own airship. The Strahl does not have much cabin space, being designed for speed and combat, and what space is not taken up by weaponry is occupied by the mechanisms controlling the wings. When Balthier sees the two pale heads gazing silently out at the clouds below, he shuts himself in the cockpit.

He shrugs when Fran tells him that his face is betraying his emotions once more. He feels as if she grooms him sometimes, just as she did when he was sixteen and alone for the first time.

They must talk when he is not present, because when the door clicks open and Vaan is standing outside as if hesitant to enter and he murmurs his thanks, Balthier can only look up in surprise.

Fran tilts her head gracefully, and she slips away in such a way that Vaan must edge into the cockpit to let her pass. The door swings shut behind her.

Balthier turns to look out at the sky, and Vaan's presence is warm against his back. He waits, listening to the soft purr of the engines.

"I'm sorry," Vaan says. "About before, when—"

"Never you mind that," Balthier says impatiently.

Vaan is quiet, and Balthier cannot decide if he is glad that the man has learned to hold his tongue or if he misses the chatter.

"Where was Fran?" Vaan asks suddenly, and it is the coarseness in the voice that makes Balthier look up sharply.

"She received a summons from the Viera."

"Oh." There is something tentative in Vaan's eyes and something awkward in his stance.

Balthier sighs. "Mjrn has decided her path and begun her training, and she is to become Elder of Eruyt village in the future. She hopes to bring the Viera closer to the rest of Ivalice, and she wishes to make amends between Fran and the Wood as her first step."

"And their Law?"

"Mjrn makes passionate appeals, don't you remember?" Balthier grins. "Fran believes that if anyone is able to sway the Wood, it will be Mjrn." He waves a hand, his rings glittering under sunlight. "As well, the Strahl's main skystone was in need of maintenance, and she took it with her and met with Margrace near the Rozarrian border."

"Is that why I found the Strahl crashed in Jagd Yensa?"

Balthier scowls. "Only a fool would search a Jagd for an airship."

"A fool. Maybe," Vaan says quietly. He straightens from where he has been leaning against the wall. "Mjrn is going to be village Elder," he says. "I guess I shouldn't ask how old she must be to take the position."

Balthier knows he is staring at Vaan incredulously, but Vaan is unreadable. He sees the strain to his jaw before the pale eyes flick away.

Vaan nods his head, turning to leave, and his fingers brush lightly over Balthier's shoulder.

Balthier watches the door even after it has shut behind Vaan.


--

Balthier eyes the stubborn set to Vaan’s jaw and the tightly crossed arms, and he sighs and counsels patience.

“You do not know what those men are capable of,” Vaan says, his voice sharp and hard. Balthier thinks of the edges and lines of the Judge's armour.

“No,” Balthier says, “but I know Larsa, and he is neither stupid nor helpless.”

“Rushing will do naught but endanger Larsa.” Fran is looking on from where she stands with Penelo.

“There,” Balthier says, “you would do well to listen to the lady.” He nods to Fran.

“Vaan...” Penelo tugs on a white sleeve. “Maybe we should—”

“Alright!” Vaan pulls away. “I get it.” The blank eyes are back, unreadable and unbreachable. Balthier wonders at which point was it that Vaan learned to shut off, and he cares not to imagine what precipitated it.

Vaan stalks past, deeper into the ship, and his friend subsides, though she wrings her hands and glances at Fran. Balthier looks on, tempted to scrub his tired eyes and groan were it not for the fact that Vaan is still within earshot. He recognizes this. He cannot help but recognize this.

Vaan is gone the next morning.

Penelo is beside herself with worry, but Balthier cuts through her clamour firmly.

“He will be fine,” he says. “We, however, need to make haste and warn the Houses Dalmasca and Margrace.”

“Warn them of what?”

Three days later, a small Archadian fighter ship hovers nearby, conveying its intentions to dock, and Vaan steps from it, a brilliant bruise upon his cheek and a triumphant glitter in his eye.

He pulls Larsa by an arm, and he looks straight at Balthier.

--

Larsa always knows where Vaan is.

Balthier watches the Emperor speak to Vaan, and he sees the small, fond smile. He is taller than Vaan, but he is slender, and Vaan seems to dwarf him.

Vaan says something, and Larsa laughs, a sharp sound, and he lays a hand on Vaan’s arm.

Balthier turns away.

Archades is silent to the rest of Ivalice, but Ashe contacts them and tells them that a Judge Magister visits her court, eyeing those who may breathe too loudly with utmost suspicion, and she calls Vaan several names she has learned in the presence of sky pirates. The letter is delivered by Rikken, who smirks and says he envies Balthier’s lively crew.

When Vaan expresses the desire to visit the Necrohol at Nabudis and asks Balthier to accompany him, Larsa insists on following. Balthier eyes Larsa’s ill-fitting mail, scrounged out from the scraps that Balthier had not yet sold, and Larsa stares back, a mutinous set to his chin. Vaan shrugs and agrees, and Balthier heaves an exasperated sigh.

“Bah.”

--

Vaan leads them into the Salikawood, and Balthier catches Fran’s eye through the wide windows of the cockpit where the Strahl hovers. She nods, and his ship soars away.

They go through the Deadlands, where the Mist hangs heavy and impenetrable as it did years ago.

Vaan goes out of his way to walk ahead, engaging and cutting down the undead warriors roaming the land before they can approach Larsa. Balthier wonders at Vaan’s goals, watching him splash through the marsh to rouse monsters that would not otherwise attack them, but when Vaan lets a half-destroyed fiend past him and Balthier raises the Fomalhaut, what he sees gives him pause.

Vaan stands still, eyes focussed and sharp as Larsa blocks a spear thrust and lunges forward, hacking into skeletal limbs with his borrowed sword.

Larsa takes a heavy slash to his side, and the healing spell that Vaan sends out is so immediate that he must have been preparing it well in advance.

Balthier fires on the zombie warrior creeping up behind Vaan, and the Fomalhaut’s shot blasts its head apart. Balthier shrugs when Vaan blinks at him. He leans the barrel of his gun against his shoulder, and he waits as Vaan continues to train the Emperor.

--

Baknamy descend upon them in the Necrohol in shrieking waves, and Vaan takes so many hits for Larsa that Balthier thinks there is more blood on the ground than within the fool.

He does not have time to do anything other than cast healing spells over and over, and Balthier’s hand begins to burn at the strain of concentrating magick.

Vaan shoulders through the beasts with blind, brute force. When they find the odd merchant who eyes them silently as he displays his wares, he hastily outfits Larsa with armour and ring, smelling of fresh magick, before rushing them back the way they came. Balthier considers protesting that the entrance to the Salikawood is much closer, but Vaan gives him a pleading look that sucks the breath from his lungs.

He thinks he knows why Vaan needs Larsa to be stronger, but he says dryly, when Larsa cannot hear, that Penelo would have been better suited to baby-sitting duty. Vaan scowls, and he stares at Balthier for a long while.

He watches Vaan rip viciously through an Oversoul after it knocks Larsa down, and he thinks the man is too much of a knight.

Vaan lets Larsa fight, once they reach the Deadlands, but then power presses a heavy hand against the back of Balthier’s neck, and he spins to see Leamonde looming over him, churning angrily, before dark magick engulfs him and burns his throat. Balthier hisses, tenses, and prepares support magick, wishing he has brought another weapon.

Vaan shouts at him to leave it, and he takes Larsa’s hand and runs.

--

Vaan is mulishly silent as he sits. Balthier knows his hands are not gentle as he tends to the remaining wounds, but he does not care. Vaan grits his teeth through Balthier’s impatient lecture on the fouls of reckless behaviour, and he pushes away roughly when Balthier is finished wrapping potion-soaked bandages over Vaan’s skin, reddened and irritated by repeated healing magick. Balthier watches him stalk away.

“He sees the people he could not protect in me.”

Balthier looks back sharply. He has forgotten Larsa’s presence in his frustration.

“This is neither the time nor the place for training missions. We must return you to Archades before your government seizes upon this chance to wage war against the rest of the continent.”

“They will not admit that I am missing for some time. It will be seen as a weakness.”

Balthier scowls. “Of course. The Empire cares for nothing but strength, and they will take it where they may find it.”

Larsa’s lips tighten, and when he speaks next, it is cold. “Odd, is it not, when the strong are exploited for being too strong.”

--

The cockpit of the Strahl is dark, muted shadows falling dimly from the glow of magicite lighting the dashboard.

Balthier loves the night sky as much as the endless blue of the day. He flies, and the stars swallow him.

He does not hear the footsteps until Vaan is leaning over the seat.

Balthier glances back. “Enjoy the outing today?”

Vaan’s eyes are luminous and too bright.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you think I did not see your face as you fought?”

Vaan blinks slowly. He leans in, and his heat burns against Balthier’s shoulder blade. He reaches out and flips the switch that allows the Strahl to cruise at constant altitude. Balthier sits still, waiting, and Vaan tugs at his cravat.

Breaths coil over Balthier’s collarbone, and the taps of the tip of a tongue over his nape cause Balthier to dig his nails into the soft leather of his seat.

Balthier jerks away.

“I do not intend to indulge a vulgar, hormonal battle’s high, Vaan,” Balthier says, making to rise.

Strong arms snake over his chest, pressing him back into his seat, and lips brush over his ear.

“You didn’t seem to have any trouble doing so that night.”

“I sought to reach you that time, and you rejected my offer of help.”

“I missed you.”

The words are soft and short, but they roar in Balthier’s ear in a dizzying confusion of fear and want and jealousy and despair, and when Vaan tugs his earring into his mouth and slides his hand under Balthier’s vest, he cannot help the strangled noise he makes in the base of his throat.

He stands, spins Vaan around and presses him down until his cheek flattens against the controls of Balthier’s airship, and he rips at the laces holding the trousers at Vaan’s hips.

Vaan looks up at him through lowered lashes, his breaths laying pale fog on the dials under him.

--

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sinnatious
Sep. 22nd, 2011 07:34 am (UTC)
Nice! I thought the previous part ended wonderfully and stood strong as a one-shot, but always happy to see more. It's nice, too, to see something of Vaan's... I guess you call it rehabilitation? We kind of catch glimpses of his past self, not just back when they all travelled together but also the time intervening.

Larsa has quite the way with words - as you expect of such an aristocrat.

Most of all enjoying some Balthier/Vaan with some fairly deep plot.
sunnepho
Sep. 22nd, 2011 11:26 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading!

Ah, yeah, I know it's starting out kind of dull. With a one-shot, it has to be all bam-bam-bam movement! because every word counts, but now I want to meander a bit and deal with all the backstory and rehabilitation that was previously unspoken. Give Vaan some time to heal and be maybe a bit awesome, though we wouldn't want to upstage Balthier.

Gonna take a while to get through everything I really wanted to include, plot-wise, so thanks for your patience! :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )