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Hanging On the Wind

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Reddas hasn't seen him in four years.

Now he stands smirking in front of Reddas' desk. A slender boy grown to a slender man, he's almost as Reddas remembers but taller, more filled out, languid pose still betraying a hint of military training.

And now a sky pirate.

Reddas grins humorlessly to himself. After all, what else would the whelp have done with the prototype Archadian warship he'd so neatly made off with, pawned it?
If young Bunansa recognizes him, if Bunansa ever saw Reddas' face in the short time the boy was a Judge, he betrays nothing.

"Time was, a honest sky pirate didn't have to present papers to dock at this illustrious harbor," Bunansa says, emphasis on illustrious, the sarcasm barely disguised beneath a veneer of gentility and that mocking Archadian accent. He holds a sheaf of parchment in an elegant, vividly beringed hand.
"You do have the option of going elsewhere," Reddas counters mildly enough. "But a safe haven for sky pirates and their airships may be in short supply."

He doesn't reach for the papers, only waits until the other's lips twitches and Bunansa steps forward and lays them in his hand, shrugging. "It's of little matter. I require a berth only until repairs can be done on the Strahl, providing I can find the proper parts."
Reddas scans the documents, papers of identification and ownership, covered in elegant scrolling script and stamped in officious red ink.  All above-board and legal, and almost certainly all forged.
"Balthier." He tastes the name on his tongue slowly, to train himself not to slip and call him by his true name. There's no last name given, which is common enough in the modern age of Ivalice; surnames are luxuries for the aristocrats and the wealthy, the ones in whose best interest it is to trace lineage to establish legitimacy and power. Most others less fortunately situated only wish to forget painful pasts.

He looks up to catch "Balthier" watching him narrowly, an inscrutable, assessing expression that is covered as quickly as an eyeblink. 

Slowly, he pushes the papers back towards Balthier and leans back in his chair. "You've been briefed on what is expected of your behavior while in dock?"
"I believe I remember some of that."
"Please do. Then I will also assume that you're aware of the consequences should you be tempted to break the regulations?"
Balthier gives him that cynical smirk again. "Fear not, I will not carouse drunkenly along the dock nor shoot some undeserving lout and otherwise embarrass your highly legitimate establishment."
Reddas feels his own mouth curl up in reply. "Legitimacy implies that I answer to some order higher than myself." 
"I meant merely to compliment you for your highly effective results, of course." Challenging, he studies Reddas for a reaction. Finding none, after a long moment, the young man bows and turns to go.

Then he pauses, one hand on the doorknob, and looks back.

"Reddas...that means 'guilty' in old Galtean, doesn't it?"

He holds Reddas' eyes for a long moment, smiling in that mysterious way he'd had even as a teenager eons ago when he'd been a Judge.

Then he slips out, the door closing soundlessly behind him.
Balthier stays in port as briefly as he'd said. Rikken completes the exit paperwork with his usual efficiency and Reddas only briefly notes the Strahl's name in the manifest of authorized airship departures for the day before signing his name at the bottom.

He would have paid no further notice of their encounter but as Reddas strolls along the quay towards the market that afternoon, he feels the subtle shift in air pressure that presages an airship lifting off from dock.

He turns his head just in time to see the Strahl. Bearing only the faintest resemblance to the hulking military craft it had once been, it now resembles its owner: sleek, sensuously elegant.

It hovers over the aeroport, impossibly floating while the hydraulic wings repositions, the skystone engines glowing as they cycle up, and then the aircraft is gone.
The sky pirate's pretense of jaded experience falls away as Reddas takes Balthier in hand and strokes, the taut skin flushed pink and slippery at the tip.  Balthier makes a high sound, lying back on the silk pillows of the divan, his hips making urgent staccato jerks up into Reddas’ hand.
Reddas traces his lips along the scar that runs along the muscles of Balthier’s neck, following it down onto Balthier’s chest where it peters out along the line of his collarbone. He doesn't ask its origin. It is, after all, an age of war, and scars are hardly uncommon. Reddas tongues it at the crook of Balthier’s neck, tasting salt and gun-oil, and Balthier shudders and writhes, golden lashes shuttering his eyes, pink-brown lips moist and panting. He smells of sandalwood.
Balthier is a hedonist's dream, long limbs splayed out over the velvet upholstery, swathed in ruffles that peeks open to reveal a dark nipple, all smooth planes of skin and rippled stomach. He lifts a hand to Reddas’ face and traces his fingers through the hair along his jawline as Reddas lets go and slides his hand further down and over the pucker he finds between Balthier's legs. Balthier levers himself up into it, lithe limbs bending, a dusky flush creeping up his cheeks and down his chest.

"What are you waiting for," he rasps, and he jerks his hips so that Reddas' grazing fingers slip tantalizingly over the tight ring. Just a bit of pressure, and– "Make me come, Lord Zecht," he gasps, and the shock of the name – that's not my name – snaps Reddas awake.

He's alone in his bed, damp with sweat. The dream is still so tantalizingly near he can still feel the slide of smooth, tanned skin, and smell the scent of sandalwood still lingering in the air.


There had been just so many of them.

All the young Judges had run together after a while, so much so that he had ceased to notice or differentiate them except for the functions they served: personal assistants, supplementary legal researchers, honorary escorts – trailing submissively behind the Judge Magisters in hopes of notice and promotion. Spoiled whelps, all of them; they were of the highest families in Archades and served little function than to flesh out an already engorged bureaucracy. Or so Reddas – Zecht, back in those long-gone days – privately thought. 

But Ffamran mied Bunansa had been different.

Not on the surface, of course; he had the bluest blood of the Archadian elite and so his position had been purchased for him. But the boy had been...sharper, somehow. His gaze hadn't held the bored sullenness of his peers; instead it flashed, with a gleam that the observer couldn't tell meant if he was laughing at them or at himself. With a lithe frame and a sharp beauty an onlooker could cut themselves on, he'd also been quick and sarcastic, all sharp humor and honey tongue; it was little wonder he was popular amongst his peers and superiors, though a shade underage for serious attempts at seduction. Not that it kept Bunansa from dabbling in everything that was on offer, leaving broken hearts in his wake like the contrail of an airship.

Thankfully he'd also been a favorite of the Judge Magisters, for among his qualities included a distinct disregard for authority. Their favor – and Reddas' too, though he had not been Bunansa's direct superior – had saved him more than once from reprimand for boyish pranks that seemed playful on the surface but often betrayed a worrisome tendency to trespass into the cynical.

Back then, Bunansa was not so schooled in concealing his true thoughts as he apparently is now. With that ill-disguised dissatisfaction and rebellion fomenting within him from sources no one knew, Reddas had been not at all surprised when the boy failed to turn up for duty one muggy morning. Subsequent reports of the missing prototype airship had been just a matter of course.

All too often, Reddas wakes out of too-vivid dreams of those long-ago days, when he’d still believed in justice and the rightness of absolute authority. He chases the scent of sandalwood and salt until he comes, cursing himself for his foolishness.

It's less difficult to put Bunansa out of his mind during the day.

After all, he's an incredibly busy man, and with careful diplomacy and the occasional judicious application of violence Balfonheim is inexorably edging into legitimacy under Reddas' care. It's satisfying work, bringing law and order out of chaos, but with it also comes what had always been the bane of civilization: mind-numbing bureaucracy.

For several months he bogs down with a moogle strike, the traffic at the port grinding to a near halt while he mediates a begrudging compromise between airship captains and their moogle engineers. Reddas won't say as much aloud, but he rather thinks that the seeq are rather more tight-fisted than it is politic to be. As a rule, bangaa are most pragmatic, humes the most imaginative, and seeq– well.

Combined with keeping Archades out of his city and monitoring the Ivalice-wide rebellion fomenting outside his borders, months fly by once again before he allows himself the luxury of wondering after Bunansa's whereabouts. He hears reports of course; tales of stolen treasures and wild adventures that are rather more embroidered than not. Despite the lurid stories that are popular among the lay people, most sky 'pirates' make their income in a vital, legal capacity as international transport, shipping, and communications, but if half the stories about Bunansa are to be believed, such a quietly safe mode of profit is not to his liking.

Nor, Reddas thinks, is he particularly trying to avoid the notice of Archades, who keeps posting notices on the Hunt boards, offering ever higher rewards for Bunansa's capture. It seems Doctor Cid misses his wayward son. Or more accurately, if the man is as Reddas remembers, coldly driven to the point of obsession and caring for no one and nothing but his research, he just wants the boy to disappear, never to embarrass him again.

Whatever Balthier is doing, he seems to have a preternatural ability to avoid capture. Reddas doesn't expect him to show his face in Balfonheim anytime soon, city of mercenaries and other sky pirates who think nothing of handing one of their own over to Archades for the right price.

Then one hot, muggy morning, Reddas opens the door to his office and stops short.

Bunansa – Balthier, he has to keep reminding himself – is lounging indolently in an opulent armchair covered in Rabanastran cushions as if all of Reddas' guards and heavily locked doors are mere illusion.

He's tanned, his hair bleached with sun, and he's dressed elaborately in a gold-embossed leather jerkin and leggings and a wild assortment of jewelry. Reddas is non-plussed at the strange garb uncharacteristic of any regional hume style he has ever seen before, even in the international port of Balfonheim, until he looks to his left and sees the stately, dark viera who stands there.

Viera-made. Hand-worked metal and leather, adapted to hume form and fused with Archadian fashion. The effect is unique and strangely beautiful, bronze and leather plates wrapped around long legs, lean torso, the rich brown and gold startling against white belled sleeves, that tan skin and golden hair, and ah, the memory of the dreams, long suppressed except in that cusp between night and dawn, wakefulness and sleep, rises up in him and smites him once again with want.

Balthier sees him looking and lifts his chin, knowing in every line of his body. Reddas finds his cheeks heating, his pulse accelerating. Precocious whelp.

"You have acquired a partner, I see," he coolly observes, as if he hadn't just been caught staring, as if jealousy hadn't spiked through him like an icicle at the sight of the elegant, ethereally beautiful viera.

The boy is sophisticated enough to have enticed one of the ageless it seems, although whether their relationship is professional or romantic, he cannot tell. A hume and viera pairing is most unusual. Viera are undemonstrative beings, even the ones who leave their homeland in the Golmore Jungle, always observing the world and others with incurious eyes, holding themselves aloof from the daily hustle and cares of mortal life.
So this is where Balthier has been occupying himself in the past months.

He carefully doesn't think of the white scar that runs up the smooth column of neck into the hairline, or the way Balthier deigns not to answer.

Then a distant rumble, louder than the average airship, interrupts the thick tension.

Reddas moves to the window to see. He curses under his breath, startling as it's echoed at his shoulder. "Archadian battlecruiser," Balthier breathes, all the ease gone out of his voice and the lines of his body in an instant, only cold loathing left. "It seems you have friends in high places," he says. "You told them I was here." 

Reddas stiffens. "How could I have known you were coming, to give them warning?” he snaps. “It's curious, sir, that an Archadian ship appears and you assume the glove fits your hand."

Surprisingly, Balthier flushes at this reproof, forcibly reminding Reddas that Balthier is still young, only nineteen and barely of his majority and perhaps expected, if not entitled, to rash remarks. But to impugn Reddas' honor, as if he would throw it away so lightly – 

They watch as other airships suddenly take to the skies from the aerodrome, flying off in a stampede as rats flee a burning house.

All Reddas' anger drains away, leaving him tired. Whatever the Archadians want, their mere presence will depress the commerce of Balfonheim for at least a month to come, and it will be the work of a much longer period to rebuild the trust of those who fled, no doubt thinking like Balthier, that Reddas had sold them to Archades.

"We must go," says the viera, in her flat, inflection-less voice.

"You can't leave," Reddas says heavily. "Your ship is too easily recognized."

Balthier seems about to speak, to argue perhaps, but he is interrupted by the viera. "This is true. They would catch us."

Immediately the rebellion fomenting in the young sky pirate's eyes dims. Amazing. Reddas begins to understand how such a partnership – mercurial boy, calm viera – can work.

A silver speck detaches from the battlecruiser and approaches the aerodrome, resolving into a large shuttle. Reddas knows he has very little time.

"You are in dock fifteen, correct?" he snaps, then without waiting for a response, "Wait there, and I will give orders that no one may enter. You should be safe there." 

"And if they decide to search the port?" 

Reddas considers him for a long moment, wondering why he feels such an urge to risk everything he's worked for to help him, whom he has known for only a short, impersonal time, on the strength of – what? attraction? "Then I have no knowledge of any vagabonds who may be hiding in my docks, and will not be responsible for any damage they may incur upon blasting their way out." He smiles at his own little joke.

Balthier gives him a searching look, that knowing back in his eyes. But it is less the blatant, shameless seduction of before; now it is shy and young, as if unsure of the motivations even Reddas has no wish to examine.

Then he nods, and they slip away.


"Thank you." The words come as he steps out of the White Cap Pub, flung at him like a challenge. 

"I would have considered it a wiser course of action to remain with your ship," Reddas says blandly, walking on without looking around.

Gods, he's tired. An entire afternoon of verbal fencing with autocratic thugs who in the end, had to be 'gifted' with money and alcohol as well as a number of 'tithes' before they would leave his city. Then he'd had another wrangle with the merchants and pirates who had not fled – or been warned precipitately enough – to soothe and to reimburse from his own purse the goods and services that the Archadians appropriated.

Filled with hostile and suspicious patrons, the Pub provided no solace in drink. His head pounding from tension and stress, Reddas had decided to return to the manse and have an early night.

"They've left, have they not?"

"Not long since." Balthier falls into step with him, an unwelcome development as he is ill-humored for company, especially that of this enigmatic, confusing boy. "They may yet come back."

"Yes. They are like coeurls on the hunt. They never let go once they have the taste of prey." 

"Curious," Reddas says after a pause, surprised at Balthier's vehement words, briefly considering the paths this conversation can take and deciding to push ahead. "You should know that aside from the usual trade 'negotiations,'" he can't keep the sarcasm out of his voice, "They were searching for someone."


"Indeed. Perhaps even curiouser, I have the feeling that this prey you speak of is a more personal cause than Balfonheim."

To Balthier's credit, he doesn't even blink. "Yes, very curious. Did they supply a name or description? I may know this person of whom you speak."

Reddas looks out over the blue ocean, then back, abruptly tiring of this cat-and-mouse game of teasing innuendos and verbal sparring. It's all so very… Archadian. "Come now, surely it must be you?" 

Displeasure in that patrician face now. Under normal circumstances he would have found some amusement in it. Bad business it is to offend sky pirates, who gossip amongst themselves like fishwives and are quick to spread tales of people who fall into their disfavor, but even worse to offend this boy – man – but at the moment he's too tired to care.

"You did not give me away, if I'm still free." Almost a question to himself.

"I told them that you fled at their coming. Maybe you're in Rozarria now."

Balthier stops short at that even as Reddas continues on; he now runs to catch up. It reminds Reddas of his magister days, with young Bunansa trailing after him in escort. He smiles.

"I sent my moogle to dock fifteen to install an invisibility cloak," he tells Balthier when he gains his side again.

Balthier is silent a moment. "You take too much upon yourself," he replies at last.

"No. The Archadians may still be watching the port. This will allow you to slip away unnoticed. It's little enough that I may do to aid one who defies Archades." And one who Reddas thinks much more of than he is strictly comfortable with, since it can only end in disappointment. Balthier will not welcome the advances of an older man with such a shameful history as he has, even if Balthier isn't bonded with his viera.

Balthier is staring at him so strangely that for a panicked moment Reddas thinks he said those words aloud. It's almost a relief when the attack comes from the left. 

They'd stopped in a shaded corner of the dock. The dock is deserted, unusually so, and the silence heavy. He'd just begun to wonder at it when Balthier shouts a warning.

Three men he doesn't recognize, dressed in the hodge-podge of international styles only sky pirates seem to wear, leap at them from behind storage crates.

He draws Chirijiraden and Ninja Knife in an instant but can't avoid a deadly slice that whistles past his torso and sinks into and down his thigh with sickening ease. He realizes in that moment that these men, though they look like sky pirates, are not; they're too good, fighting with a deadly, efficient style only taught in –

"Archades," he hisses, leaping backwards to regroup, blood running down his leg in a warm torrent to fill his boot.

They must have come on the battlecruiser, left behind like vipers in a disguised pit to attack when the moment was right. "Come, then!" he shouts at them, thrilling to the challenge of battle that he's had so little of in recent years, grinning in a rictus of bared teeth. He'd trained and defeated others far better than these whelps who, in choreographed tandem, split into opposite directions, circling around him. Testing him.

A gunshot splits the air, and one jerks backwards, blood spreading in a starburst from a point in his chest. The man collapses, eyes wide, mouth moving, whispering a Cure spell without sound, without effect. Silenced.

Reddas had forgotten about Balthier completely. Balthier levels his gun at the other assassins and asks conversationally, "Would you like to try your luck too?" taut rage only evidenced by his white-knuckled grip on the gun. The two assassins shift, uneasy at the ranged weapon against their own melee ones, and don’t move.

"Don't kill them!" Reddas barks. Now the world is graying out around the edges as his boot continues to fill, his foot literally swimming in blood, sloshing as he takes a step towards the frozen tableau. Must have nicked a major blood vessel, he thinks to himself grimly, struggling to retain enough consciousness to cast Curaga on himself. He never carries Hi-Potions, bulky and expensive as they are. Foolish in hindsight, that is, and he's not usually a foolish man.

"Why?" Balthier bites out. The gun never wavers.

"There's been...enough – death. Take them to trial," he gasps.

Balthier's gaze shifts from the would-be assassins, who'd dropped their weapons and are raising their hands, to Reddas. He draws in his breath sharply as he sees Reddas' leg.

In the split-second of inattention one of the assassins flings Fira at them, a whirlwind inferno of fire and heat.

Reddas reacts instinctively, lapsing into old habits and patterns of speech, and he shouts, "Bunansa! Down!" in Archadian even as he bodily tackles Balthier and bears him down to the ground with a tooth-jarring thud. The flames passes over their heads close enough for Reddas to feel his skin singe. The gun goes off next to his head, deafening him.

Then Balthier is pushing him off. He lays on the cobbles like a marionette with its strings cut as there are shouts, another gunshot, and then the high whistling sound of a magick.

Then silence.

Balthier's face reappears in his vision. He’s holding out a crystal vial of white milky liquid – an Elixir – to Reddas' lips. "Drink, old man," he says quietly, then cold, vaguely minty liquid flows into his mouth.

Once he's swallowed and his leg begins tingling, regenerating muscle and skin, Reddas rasps, "So that blunderbuss is good for more than mere decoration."

And miracles of miracles, Balthier laughs.

He's never seen him laugh before. For all his sardonic smirks, Balthier is not a laughing man. He looks young once again as he does so, once more the innocent teenager he'd been years ago in Archades, before anger and hatred and bitter disappointment had laid their fingers on him and left indelible marks on his soul.

Reddas takes that surprise with him, down into the darkness.


The world is soft, tinged with pain. He grays in and out for an eternity before he comes back to himself to realize that he's in his own room, in his own bed. An unaccustomed but familiar slim figure is sitting next to him.

The next time he wakes up, the time he stays awake, the familiar figure is gone.

It takes much to keep Reddas to his bed after that. It is vital that no weakness can be seen in Balfonheim's leader, and at any rate he is almost fully healed, thanks to Balthier's quick actions and Balfonheim's best white mages.

There are so many administrative details that can not be postponed or delegated that by the beginning of the fourth day, over Rikken's protests, Reddas pulls himself up and sinks into the big chair in his office. He waves away his assistants who hover about him like worried mother cockatrices, then when they won't go, orders them out. He’s fine, gods curse it, his wounded leg knitted cleanly into a long pink scar. The prescribed bed rest is only the result of overzealous healers. He doesn't need to be coddled.

They go reluctantly, Elza leaving behind another Elixir and a promise to bring food shortly.

It is better to work, to work and to forget cocky young sky pirates in the thousand mundane little details of daily bureaucracy, though his head begins to pound after only an hour.

The assassins are being held in the prisons underneath the judiciary, recovering from their arrest. They aren't talking – yet.  

Reddas is still deciding what to reveal in his next conversation with the Archadian Judge Magisters; they'll deny everything of course, and little judicial satisfaction to be had with it. But perhaps the Emperor Gramis and certain of his coterie are not past reason and justice, if he can reach them. Officially Judge Magister Foris Zecht disappeared, but a few remaining of his old colleagues who survived the constant turmoil of Archades politics know who he is and where he fled to. For the sake of their old friendship, these old allies provide Balfonheim with a degree of security against invasion or annexation by Archades, though they cannot save the city from some measure of harassment. He hopes they may be able to get him a channel to the Emperor’s ear.

Assuming, of course, they don’t simply ignore his missives, as they are wont to do when the embarrassment of Archades is at issue.

Once, Archades had honor.

The door opens, whisper soft against plush carpet.

"You're still here," says Reddas, stupidly, hand relaxing from the pistol hidden in his desk drawer.

He’d thought – assumed – that Balthier left port, as quickly as he always comes and goes, slipping away while everyone was distracted with Reddas and the assassins.

"Against all advice." Balthier, having paused in the doorway in surprise at being caught, crosses the room as if that was his intention all along, and once again takes the most luxuriantly appointed chair in Reddas' chambers. "But as it happens, I owe you, and I prefer to owe no one."

"You owe me nothing." 

"Ah, but I do." 


"In the two days you are unconscious, your moogle engineer finished installing the invisibility cloak – over my objections, mind you – and a fine invisibility cloak it is. Far be it for me to refuse such a fine gift."

"So you stayed?"

"You're not listening. I repay my debts."

"Enough to nurse a man and stay by his bedside until he recovers?" Reddas supposes he should not enjoy this banter so much, but Balthier is smiling and drawing his chair closer with an ease that had not characterized their conversations before. Then a thought strikes him. "Where is Rikken? or Raz? Do they trust you alone with me?"

Balthier grins. "Perhaps you struck your head harder than I thought. Do you truly believe I'm here with their permission?"

He leans forward, and Reddas sees the glint of a key flash between Balthier's fingers before it disappears up his white sleeve again.

Reddas braces his elbows on his desk. "Little else would I expect from one of Archades," he says before he thinks, then cannot – would not – snatch the words back unspoken. He is a man of only one regret, and he will not regret speaking truth no matter how ill-timed the words.

He keeps his eyes on Balthier's face as the words strikes home, and he seizes Balthier's wrist as the man stands suddenly as if shot.

The touch arrests Balthier's movement, and he remains that way: half-standing, head arched away, the lines of his body tense and shaken.

"You know," Balthier says, low, "Don't you, Zecht?" the last word flung like a sharp knife, the Lord deliberately omitted, the insolence of his tone undermined by the tremble in his voice.

"I've known from the beginning," Reddas murmured. When Balthier says nothing, he continues, "So you recognized me."

The half-lidded eyes flutters almost to a close. "Of course. And you have recognized me."

"You never – " Bunansa was never Zecht's personal assistant, how could he have seen Zecht without his disguising helmet, to recognize him now?

"I used to watch you," Balthier says almost defiantly. "Of course I know what you look like."

"Did you?" Reddas strokes the soft skin of Balthier's wrist with his thumb, feeling the rabbit-quick thrum of his pulse. The thought of young Bunansa watching him, all insolence and resentment and barely disguised desperation for approval, shivers through him to hum low at the base of his spine.

Balthier looks away, flushing, and Reddas can read him now, can see when he withdraws behind his armor of defiant insouciance. Balthier chooses his next words with care to best draw blood. "And then you ran away. Nabudis, was it?"

Reddas had known it was coming, that one barb that can pierce him, but he can't help stiffening at the words, pressure like a hand against his chest of guilt, shame. Regret.

Balthier seems almost sorry for his words even as they leave his mouth, and they gaze at each other, both stricken silent.

"My apologies," Balthier says finally. He leans forward and then, with the barest hesitation, leans further and breathes against Reddas' lips, "I too know something of guilt."

"We’ve both left our pasts behind, have we not?" Reddas murmurs in reply, even as he slides his hands over Balthier's arms, up to his neck to bury his fingers in the soft hairs of Balthier's nape. It is like his dream, hot skin lightly scented with sandalwood, as Balthier opens up to him with a moan, all soft lips, clever tongue, hot breath that tickles until Reddas can bear it no longer. Balthier is wearing entirely too many clothes, the damn fop.

"Ridiculous armor, this," Reddas laughs as he backs Balthier into his desk, long fingers working at the close of Balthier's trousers.

“I’m not the one who got stabbed,” Balthier retorts, then Reddas has him on the desk, his clothing stripped off in layers. The worked leather and linen fall to the desk with soft thumps allowing Reddas to roam with greedy hands over the hard planes of Balthier's body.

Parchment crinkles under them as they move, but Reddas can't bring himself to care. Balthier tastes of mint and mulled wine and he chases the flavor down until Balthier is laid flat on the surface of Reddas' desk. Reddas watches the quick rise and fall of Balthier's chest, of supple skin and small dark nipples that Reddas leans down to taste even as he works at the waist of Balthier's pants until –

"Ah!" Balthier stifles his cry against his hand. Reddas ignores him in favor of the cock in his hand, as smooth and well-shaped as he imagined, dusted at the base with silky hair, rosy at the tip.

Reddas has had time to think about this, of course he has, though he'd never dared to think this would happen. Reddas wants to be the one to lay him bare, to breach that cool façade that keeps out the world and everything painful in it.

It'll be a challenge; Balthier is no blushing virgin, that much is clear even if Reddas hadn't watched him navigate his way into and out of various of his contemporaries' beds with tousled hair and kiss-swollen lips and an almost-admirable disregard for the hurt feelings and bruised egos left in his wake. But Reddas is no callow boy either, to take or leave Balthier's favor at Balthier's whim. He wants Balthier now, with no more pretense, spread beneath him, begging.

And coming back for more.

He settles into a punishing rhythm, the slide of his hand helped well along by leaking precum, reclaiming Balthier's mouth as Balthier curses and squirms. Reddas relished the arrhythmic pants of breath even as Balthier tried to take back control from him, twisting his hands up under Reddas' shirt and clenching flesh between his fists hard enough to bruise. Reddas ignores this, rubbing a sword-calloused thumb over the head of Balthier's all too pretty cock, and bites him hard, right where the white scar joins his neck. Balthier gasps, and comes.

He makes a sinful vision, all trembling limbs and lightly dusted golden hair marred by stripes of white cum contrasted against his skin, as he sprawls bonelessly across Reddas' desk amid crumpled sheets of official paperwork.

Reddas doesn't give him time to compose himself. "You are not done," he says almost kindly, and pulls at him until Balthier slides off the desk and stands once more before him, then pushes at his shoulder. Balthier resists for just a moment, a cursory defiance, then sinks to his knees, a wicked smile on his face.

Ah, Balthier is a master at this, clever hands and cleverer tongue, taking Reddas to the hilt. Reddas grinds forward, hands curled around Balthier's head and guiding it until Balthier's nose is buried into Reddas' belly. He hisses a laugh as Balthier lets his teeth whisper along his length on the way back, as warning, then he can no longer gather his thoughts to play further games, lost in the tight suction and slick warmth of Balthier's mouth. Balthier's hands flex on his hips, clenching hard enough to hurt, but then he capitulates, one hand falling to his lap even as Reddas holds his head still and thrusts.

He pets Balthier's head as they both pant in the aftermath, Balthier resting his head against Reddas' thigh.

"Now you’ve had your fill of me, and I owe you no more," Balthier says finally. He does not look up at Reddas, the languor transformed now into the stiff line of his shoulders.

His words shock Reddas, shock him down to his core at what the words imply. Did he so badly misunderstand Balthier’s motivations? He ceases running his fingers through Balthier's cropped hair and slides his fingers down his cheek instead, then coaxes him to his feet.

"No, I would not have you think thus," Reddas says, and kisses him. Against stiff lips he tries to convey every dream and thought of desire and want he's had of Balthier over the long two years of their acquaintance in their new lives. "You owe me nothing, you never have. Instead, I would wish – that you would visit me again."

Balthier pulls back and studies him, those green eyes suspicious as if he has heard the words before, to his detriment. "Some would say our histories and reputations would preclude any dalliance."

"As if you care what others say," Reddas says.

Balthier cuts him off. "No. There is much you do not know about me. Why I left, who I left—"

"Your father?"

Somehow this was the wrong thing to say; Balthier freezes, then turns away and begins snatching up his clothes and shrugging the complicated pieces on with the ease of long practice.

"Bunansa—" Reddas says, trying to hold him there, wondering how he lost him so easily, this mercurial, enigmatic man with hidden depths and treacherous pitfalls. Secrets, they all have secrets like poisoned jewels, and surely this commonality of deception will be the end of Ivalice.

"Don't call me that. I gave up that name long ago," Balthier snaps, and heads for the door.

Reddas catches him just as he is reaching for the latch. "Balthier." Balthier rounds on him, his eyes snapping green ice, but Reddas pushes on. "Your past does not matter to me," he says. "And I would see you again, if you are willing."

The frozen glare remains. Then Balthier slowly nods. "Perhaps," he says.

Then he is gone, and Reddas does not see him again, not for many years.