Vaan leaned back in his chair, yawning and putting his feet up on the table. He closed his eyes and let the serenity wash over him.
Damn, but it was nice to get a break every so often.
Balfonheim was a free state of pirates, of both sea and sky, and since they had arrived the night before, Vaan had been in a state of almost constant excitement. This beat running around capital cities and evil laboratories by a long shot. For as long as he'd remembered having any aspirations at all, Vaan had wanted to be a sky pirate. He could imagine nothing better. Strong, respect, living outside of the law, going wherever he pleased, whenever it pleased him.
The six of them—the princess Ashe and her escorts—were currently staying with an old friend of Balthier's, a woman by the name of Rose. They hadn't exactly met the lady of the house yet (she wasn't due back in port until that afternoon) but they had been welcomed by a man who Vaan could only assume was her husband, though he had never really thought of pirates having spouses.
The serenity was broken by a sharp pain on his cheek. For a moment, he looked around for a bee. What he saw was Penelo, glaring, poised to flick another almond at him.
"What?" he hissed, rubbing his jaw.
"Get your feet off the table!" Penelo scolded.
Vaan frowned, but he put his feet down all the same. He hated being treated like a child, especially by Penelo. He understood if Basch or Ashe snapped at him—they were hardened warriors both, but Penelo was every bit as naïve as he was. They'd both still be scrounging on the streets of Rabanastre if it hadn't been for Balthier and Fran.
The latter was currently watching him from the other end of the table, what could have been a smile tugging at her lips.
"What?" he asked irately.
Fran shook her head, great Viera ears twitching with what he was sure was amusement.
"Penelo's right, Vaan," Ashe said. "You shouldn't have your feet on the table."
"It isn't good form for a guest," Basch agreed.
"Well, Penelo shouldn't be flicking her nuts at me!" Basch and Ashe exchanged a glance and Fran's ears twitched again. Vaan rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he said. "Everybody's against me. Where's Balthier?"
Basch lifted a careless shoulder. "No telling, with him."
"He is still asleep, I believe," Fran supplied. "He is quite lazy when given the opportunity."
Penelo giggled. "Yeah. I guess the rest of us are all just so used to waking up early—."
"—And sleeping with one eye open," Ashe interjected.
Penelo nodded. "—That we can't relax even when we have the chance."
"Balthier can relax," Fran said. "I believe it is one of his virtues. Or perhaps one of his flaws."
"Well, I think it's time he got his lazy ass out of bed," Vaan said, getting to his feet. He left the dining room and stomped down the hallway to the room Balthier was sharing with Fran. Not even bothering to knock, he pushed his way inside, drawing a deep breath to shout out a wake-up-call, and stopped dead in his tracks.
Balthier wasn't sleeping, he was standing in the center of the small, tidy room, stark naked. He'd obviously just bathed, because he was dripping wet. Vaan's "wake up!" got caught in his throat and became a surprised sort of squeak.
"Can I help you, Vaan?"
Vaan just stared, shaking his head slowly. Sure, he'd seen naked men before (as he himself was one of them) but he and the boys he'd shared the dingy bathhouses with back in Rabanastre looked nothing like this. Balthier was tanned and muscled, body gleaming in the sunlight. He looked powerful and dangerous and Vaan thought it would probably be best to stop staring before Balthier started to think he swung in that direction.
"S-sorry!" he babbled, holding up his hands, and was just about to shut the door and hope the pirate didn't mention this to the others, when something else caught hie eye. Sitting under the window was a small table, onto which the two sky pirates had deposited their things when they'd occupied the room, one of these being Balthier's rather hefty coin purse.
A little hand had slithered in through the window, attached to an arm, which was in turn attached to someone outside.
"Hey!" Vaan yelled.
The thief jumped and, realizing they had been found out, grabbed the purse and ran, stumbling down the cobblestones of Balfonheim's main street.
Turning to see what Vaan was shouting about, Balthier's eyes widened.
"Oy!" he cried, jumping to the window. "Mangy little sneak-thief!" Then, much to Vaan's dismay, he wrenched the pane open as wide as it would go, hoisted himself through, and was off like a shot after the little robber.
Vaan followed almost at once, dropping to the cobblestones, sprinting to catch up. He didn't have any trouble following; Balthier was leaving a wake of shocked citizens behind him. Apparently, a man running down the street in the nude was a rarity even in a pirate's stronghold. Some people looked scandalized, others amused, and some, quite a significant number actually, looked delighted.
Vaan could hear the wolf whistles and catcalls as he entered the plaza above the port. Balthier had chased his thief until they had nowhere else to go—it was either be caught or jump off the wall into the clear blue ocean a dozen feet below.
The thief was a girl, maybe four or five years younger than Vaan, and she looked rather alarmed. He couldn't say he blamed her. She was being followed by an angry pirate, and she was a little too young to appreciate Balthier's nudity.
"All right, girlie. Just give me the bloody purse and we'll call it an amateur's mistake, aye?"
The girl stared, mouth open, before flinging the purse at his feet and bolting. The crowd broke into applause and whistles. Balthier gave a very elaborate bow, displaying his backside to the spectators, but not before picking up his pilfered gil.
"Thank you all for attending," he said grandly. "I'm here all week."
The crowd laughed. Balthier just smiled and started on his way back up the avenue, tossing the purse from one hand to the other. As he passed Vaan, he muttered, "Shall we?" and offered his arm comically.
"Uh, no thanks."
Balthier snorted, grabbing his arm regardless. The stares and giggles and whispers continued all the way back to the house. A gaggle of gaudily dressed women called down from a porch, bidding Balthier come with them and put his sword to use.
"Gods know 'tis the only thing you blokes are good for," one of them said, sending the rest into peals of laughter.
Vaan could feel his cheeks coloring. He wasn't even the one naked, but he was getting just as many stares. "How's it go'in, boyo?" a big, tattooed sailor asked as he passed, waggling his eyebrows
"You've got quite a pretty boy there," a woman sky pirate called out to Balthier. "You in a sharin' mood?"
Balthier threw her an exaggerated glare, reaching back and grabbing Vaan by the arm. "Not on your life," he said, dragging him closer. The spectators laughed again.
"Uh, Balthier…what are you doing?" He was now nearly pressed up against the naked pirate.
"Just play along, Vaan. Give the people what they want, and all."
"You watch out for that one," a girl around Vaan's age called to him. "He's nothing more than a sky cur." She gave him a saucy wink. "He'll use you shamelessly and then toss you out."
"Just 'cause he did that to you…" muttered her friend, a girl with a Rosarian accent. They fell into a fit of giggles.
"This is so embarrassing," Vaan muttered. "They think you and me—."
"Nothing wrong with that," Balthier said cheerily. "We're both consenting men, aren't we?" With that, he opened the door to Rose's house and walked inside.
He was greeted instantaneously by another round of gasps. Hearing the commotion, Penelo, Ashe, Basch, and Fran had all come to the front room. The reactions were immediate and predictable. Ashe and Penelo both squealed and turned around. Basch simply cocked an eyebrow. Fran's ears twitched.
"Gone out for some air, have you?" she asked, arms crossed.
Balthier took a deep, healthy breath. "Sea breeze. There's nothing like it."