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Title: Twice of Age
Fandom: FFXII
Pairing: Balthier/Basch
Rating: M
Word Count: 3,788
Summary: Their paths do not intersect for a long time after war has turned to a comfortable peace. Game time +15 years, bittersweet reunions.

It comes as they get older. Basch of course would never retire, even as the judge's plate pulled his shoulders lower and lower. Balthier fights the softening of his figure with constant motion, as if he passed every mirror at a run he would never see the ghost of his father in his hair, his eyes - wicked smiles made lines too, it seemed. Their paths do not intersect for a long time after war has turned to a comfortable peace.

Fran and Balthier have an agreement not to resent each other - he does not begrudge her agelessness and beauty, she does not envy his frantic brevity.

She simply seeks to experience what it is like, he supposes, to worry about time and what one does with it before they slow down and finally are forced to stillness.

Balthier intends to go down in flames long before that. She can join him, if she wishes.

One of his risks dares him into Archades for the first time in some long stretch, and he dares the castle, risks the judges, the guards. He tells himself it's just to prove he can still do it - and then, he can't.

It stings his pride, so that he loses his plans the same as his breath when he is recognized - after the wound had cut neatly one hamstring and toppled him - and that was a new experience for him, a runner. The muscle coiled up along his leg like a taut bowstring sudden snapped, and all of the hurts he'd endured none had quite so thoroughly put him on the floor.

Larsa looks well, when Balthier is dangled before him like an errant kitten, hefted between two guards as he bites his cheek against sound and bleeds on the carpet. Well, but tired. Not everyone keeps so frantic a schedule as Balthier.

"You need not take such risks, Balthier. You've been bestowed knighthood, you know, and the treasury I would open gladly to you - for your history."

"Posthumously," Balthier says, of his knighthood. "Where I could not possibly appear to refute the title."

Larsa tilts his head, and with the curtain of his well-treated hair moving so, and his features gaining the age of true maturity, he looks a Solidor through and through. "I dare say you could have."

"And ruined so overbearing and elegant a funeral?" Balthier answers, letting his weigh hang fully from the arms of the beleaguered guards supporting him. "Hardly my place."

"Nor is breaking in at night to carve yourself on the blades of my guards, Sir Bunansa."

Balthier feels that cut deeper than that in his leg.

"I'm of a mind to turn you out again," Larsa says, and then hesitates. "But it just so happens you are a bird and a stone both, having delivered yourself into my hands in such a state. There is another problem I have recently acquired."

Balthier has begun to feel dizzy and so his quip at flying and sinking dies in his throat. There would never, in his youth, have been a time when he let royalty or captors rush to the point, but he is a man nearing forty now and a good deal of his blood has colored the expensive carpet. He only counts that victory in an offhand way.

"Keep him captive," Larsa tells his guards, in an amused tone. "Judge Gabranth can see to the duty."

The guards do not even question the order - Larsa is either an utter tyrant or well loved. Balthier knows it's the latter but spitefully believes the former when the guards begin to hoist him away again and his leg peels up wet from the carpet.

Larsa frowns down at the bright stain as they leave.


He wakes in a bed and the feeling of the expensive sheets and heavy comforter insulating him against the cold of the invading Archadian winter makes him rush to struggle free of the entrapment of expense and comfort. He flings the covers back with a snarl, hitting the floor with the intent to run.

His leg gives under him and in the wash of pain he barely registers the strong hand catching him around the elbow - out-flung for balance and sinking into unexpected resistance. But when he overcomes the sensation of nothing but the fire and tearing in his leg mattering, he finds himself not on the floor.

"Not yet," A voice says, soothingly, and it and the presence are familiar enough that Balthier finds himself relaxing against his will. "We have done what we could with magicks, but the rest is time my friend."

"Basch," Balthier answers, relieved, and he turns his arm to grip heavily at the man's shirt front and pulls himself more carefully up. Ronsenburg bears his weight as easily as he always had. Balthier finds the silhouette strangely distorted, and sees that the catch had only been made one-handed because Basch's other arm is in a sling. "A captive of Larsa's kindness as well, I see?"

Basch looks faintly embarrassed, following Balthier's gaze. He helps the pirate to sit back up on his bed, making no remark nor glancing twice at the mess Balthier had made of the bedding. "'Tis more than the usual training scratch, I'll admit."

And Balthier momentarily hates the casual admitting of age from Basch's lips, as if the grace with which the man handled everything had suddenly become a personal affront.

"What were you seeking to steal?" Basch asks, and so that he does not tower he sits politely next to Balthier. Leaving Basch to wait for his answer, Balthier pauses as he carefully explores the neat bandage along his calf, the pain sharpest at the back of his ankle where he was severed.

The muscle twinges warningly under Balthier's touch, and he presses it back in just as much threat before taking his hand away. "Apparently I wasn't stealing anything save my own dignity."

"I have well-trained the patrols," Basch says, apologetically. "There are many that would seek to follow your example for piracy, only less heroically, Ser Bunansa."

Balthier hisses his displeasure, and jabs a finger into Basch's side, aiming between his ribs to cause a flinch. "Not from you, fon Ronsenburg. You know well how irksome it is to wear unearned titles."

"After a time, one tends to earn them," Basch mediates, and rubs his side with his uninjured hand.


"It is good to see you, Balthier," Basch says, and his kindness is almost as entrapping and stifling as the blankets had been. "Though perhaps I might wish it under other circumstances."

"Than you being my jailor?" Balthier asks, and watches the ache wake in Basch's eyes, serious and apologetic. "Well I have been a ghost for some years and a nuisance for some others."

"Don't say that," Basch says, his tone gone low and quiet, such seriousness as only he knew how to throw into Balthier's jests. "I was much relieved to have your 'nuisance' back to hand. You let us all worry and mourn."

"It was convenient," Balthier says, tender at having been wrenched to a stop in his levity. Basch does not even look stung. "You all made more of me than I much liked to have made. And-"

"When we stopped at last, it left you to think," Basch says, with fifteen years of insight. Balthier shows his teeth in irritation.

"Your insight is untarnished, but incorrect."

"Hn," Basch agrees, irritatingly, but lays his hand - large as Balthier remembers - on Balthier's shoulder and it quiets him, as it always used to. It's a primal instinct from some part of Balthier that he'd hoped died in the crash but was just as much a survivor as the rest of him, it seemed. "I have sent word to Fran of your situation and condition."

Balthier looks up at Basch, waiting. Fran would have seen the announcements as well, but her faith in Balthier would not be shaken by such as this.

"She said she would keep the Strahl in good condition," Basch says, and the corners of his eyes have gone crinkled with amusement. "And that she hopes you would reconsider future damages to your person, as the wait is inconvenient."

Balthier smiles for that. "She gets along fine without me."

"Her letter also said she was going on to your next plan and intended to make a success of it."

So his captivity was complete, and without hope of rescue from this excessive kindness. Balthier sighs. He shall have to catch up, then. He starts up more carefully this time by intents, but Basch holds him.

"Balthier, you are hamstrung. If you want to retain your abilities, you'll let it heal."

"I know my own limits," Balthier lies, because he never has, but he never lets them keep him, either.

"You'll go again so quickly?"

"I have already stayed overlong by my intents."

"Then you will make me keep you, as is my charge?" Basch asks, and swallows. He is getting up and then places himself in Balthier's way, looking down. Balthier refuses to lift his eyes and stares levelly at Basch's chest, the arm slung close to it.

"And your injury?" Balthier says, instead of anything relevant. Basch curls his hand under the point of Balthier's chin, in a ghost of what they had once, and tips his head up so they can speak properly. Balthier knows Basch is looking at the marks age and old injury have left on his face. He looks in return, and finds it hard to accept the short-cropped hair and how little Basch has changed otherwise. He had always worn age well, and his light hair almost hid the silver that was creeping far more slowly through it than Balthier's own.

"I took a hard strike training younger judges - some have more fire than I thought."

The blow had surprised Basch - wary, careful, deliberate Basch. He was - growing tired. With some alarm, Balthier realizes the man has passed fifty. It sets his teeth together in defiance of time.

"That's unlike you, Captain."

"Strange of you to say," Basch says, smiling. "You echo others that have cared."

"I-" Balthier begins, but does not allow himself to finish with 'care'. "Suppose others have come to know you better."

"They know Gabranth."

"Nn." Balthier agrees and disagrees. "They know what you have made of him."

The wild urge to claim Basch back, take him out of this borrowed and tiresome life in which he surely finds himself now tragically redundant rises in Balthier. Surely Larsa no longer needed so unquestionably loyal a hound - he had well earned many others in the years between. But, Basch had never known how to be free.

There would be no kindness in pulling him from this, though if Balthier asked and meant it, Basch would come. Basch would always come - they both understood imprisonment on that level. The difference was Basch always chose it.

"So you say." Basch says, out of words.

"You'd have made a fine Pirate," Balthier says, falling back on script instead of making a real effort.

"And you a worthy Judge," Basch answers, and they are as they were, for a moment, Basch's fingers still under Balthier's chin. Time unchanges them.

"Is that a proposition?"

"I know better."

Balthier seizes Basch's wrist and his intention is to remove the touch from his own skin, but instead he pulls, almost yanks until Basch leans down and kisses him again. After a space of years, and still just waiting for his cue. Balthier bites his lip for it, and Basch hisses but doesn't stop kissing him slowly and deliberately. He curls his hands around Basch's neck, persuasively, and Basch touches Balthier's hair, his neck, his chest - feeling for wholeness in an endearing and infuriating way.

"I won't break," Balthier says, when they've parted (barely), into the small space between their mouths. Basch huffs, and it's not a laugh.

"Never," Basch says, and then he's getting down on his knees and he runs his hand down Balthier's uninjured calf. "But you've been a ghost, as you've said. That leave some new space for doubt, perhaps."

Balthier does not kick him, but he wants to. Basch soothes his pride by reaching next for the complicated ties at his crotch. The wide hands are still familiar and wake him beneath the leather, leaving him hard, aching, very quickly. Some after-effect of the danger and the warmth that Basch's touch confers even through the layers.

"There's life in me yet," Balthier says, through his teeth. Basch has never rushed, but now he seems in a hurry. "And you, I'd wager. Stop teasing, Captain."

Basch is palming him hard through the leather, coaxing Balthier's erection to fill in the confinement. Breath seems harder to find as he arches into the touch and constriction, the fingers mapping his exact dimensions expectantly. Balthier lifts his hips through the painful protest of his leg and grits his teeth into the motion, and Basch relents to the demand.

"Never any patience," Basch observes in his low-husky tone, and that - oh, that is an ache of the past like the open wound in his leg. Basch gets Balthier's pants open, and frees Balthier's cock into his grip where they both want it. How could Balthier have any patience when there was this in memory, and here, now?

"I will be patient - oh," and Balthier knows that to talk is to invite embarrassing, needy noises to describe themselves in his voice, but he has never yet been able to stop himself. "When I have run out of urgency."

Basch strokes him with a tight-enough grip, from the base to the head of his cock, and Balthier thinks he'll be patient when he's dead and not before.

"Come up," Balthier says, not because of his injury or Basch's, but because he's tired of Basch's humility. "Where I can reach you."

Balthier doesn't want this to be about hands and mouths, pleasurable as that is. Basch pushes the calloused pad of his thumb along the slit in the head of Balthier's cock and Balthier hisses in mingled warning and encouragement. Basch only lingers a moment longer before getting stiffly to his feet - he has hardly been kind to his knees over the years.

"'Tis kinder to both of us," Basch scolds, reading Balthier's expression. He unslings the pocket of fabric holding his arm immobile while he's standing, though he keeps the arm tucked protectively against his chest. Balthier takes the opportunity to assist with the ties on the man's pants. He remembers the k not, and it answers easily to his familiar tug, letting Basch's pants pool around his ankles before he steps out of them. Balthier reaches up to touch carefully along the splinted and bandaged arm. It is well healed and carefully tended, and looked little like the wounds Basch would leave open to heal on their own while they fought harder - peace time is gentler to them than their pasts, but their bodies seem to have slowed to compensate.

"It's high time you retired, Captain." Balthier chides, when he's certain they won't tear anything asunder again with more vigorous activity. He is fairly certain of his own ability to coddle his leg, much as it irritates him that he has to.

"I am currently retiring into your bed, Pirate. Is that not good enough?" Basch carefully disentangles his shirt and then joins Balthier and they don't have to negotiate too much, coming to rest on their sides, front to front.

Balthier finds the one place age has touched the Captain while Basch touches the criss-cross of old scars along Balthier's back and sides, discovering parts that Balthier had once upon a time hated, and now simply accepted. His vanity had been altered, certainly, and he was now more careful of the cut of his clothes, but here could Basch could see that he was as human as any.

He yanks out one of Basch's gone-grey chest hairs and grins at it, enjoying the man's wince.

"This is a change," he says, and then before Basch can distract himself on Balthier's imperfections anymore, Balthier slides his hand down the man's stomach and then between them to curl around Basch's cock.

"I will not be so coarse as to-" Basch tries, but he's never been as good at talking as Balthier. He does not ease his grip to give Basch reprieve enough to finish his words. Balthier has always appreciated the man's size - the way his erection comfortably fit the palm of his hand and suggestively curved into his grip.

"I hope you have some slick, Captain." Balthier says, low, into the space where Basch's breaths are streaming.

"I... yes."

"For when you're thinking of me?" Balthier taunts, pressing on Basch's admittance, practical though it is, of humanity.

"For when I'm not thinking," Basch says in careful emphasis, with a tone of apology. He reaches back with his good arm to fumble in the drawer of the bedside table.

Balthier rolls over and pushes back until he feels Basch's erection against the small of his back. He reaches down and resettles his injury carefully, leaving the leg as straight as possible. Basch stretches him with his thumb and pointer at first, as was his unusual habit, and Balthier groans, refusing to allow that he was out of practice.

"Your leg?" Basch asks, mouth on the nape of Balthier's neck and tenderly open.

"Is fine for this, but I should not renew our standing acquaintance too soon-"

Basch scissors his fingers harder, and Balthier feels it shameful that he must silent to keep his concentration. He does not quite need to bite the pillow, at least.

"Tight," Basch purrs, anticipatorily, and Balthier knows that there is some part of a question in it, which he doesn't answer.

He hasn't done this since the fall of the Bahamut. Originally, because of his injuries - having a ship fall on one's shoulders instead of a city did not make it fall any lighter.

Then he simply 'fell out of the habit', or so he told himself, without the convenience of Basch.

So the stretch is slow, difficult. Basch grunts against his shoulder when he finally exchanges his fingers for his cock, guiding himself carefully. Balthier's voice climbs higher than he'd like because he hasn't felt this in a long while. He rounds his body into it, stretches his legs further apart to open as much as possible.

"Captain, I won't shatter," he's saying, even as he feels he might, and then, "Basch," but there's nothing he wants to add to that.

Basch actually has the audacity to shush him, making the sound low and soothing as he holds still when he's as deep as he'll go. His fingers rub small circles low on Balthier's belly, until Balthier feels he's ready to tear himself free and flee the room, injury or no.

"Basch if you don't-" he begins, acidly, and shifts to brace himself on his side and into motion, but then Basch moves, drawing back and pushing up to silence Balthier with a forceful thrust.

"Don't?" he asks, and then bites the back of Balthier's neck and curls his hand around Balthier's cock in the same instant, and Balthier almost can't answer.

"Just don't - oh - stop," Balthier says, and because his mouth is going and he cannot now make it cease. "I have missed this."

Basch is too busy to answer.

"Not your loyalty to our cause, nor your need to accept - nn. To accept up burdens you'd no right to on your shoulders." Balthier speaks on, now as mindless and honest as the rhythm he rocks back to meet while his leg warns him against it with every motion. "But it is flattering to believe someone can look only at you for a while."

No answer again. Basch was a creature of focus, and Balthier one of unfocus. It was far safer - if Basch asked any question now, he'd get truth for an answer.

"Who have you looked at in the meantime, I wonder?"

The pace quickens, and Balthier braces himself with both hands forward and arches his back until - oh, there, and when Basch hits it the first time Balthier's voice fails him. He holds still to keep it happening, and Basch pushes along his prostate once, twice more, and Balthier comes undone Basch's welcoming palm, spilling in silence at last.

"I haven't had much opportunity to look," Basch says between breaths, when he has finished. Balthier had been barely aware of his last few thrusts. Now he curls one of his hands around Basch's fist where it still lazily coaxes him past over-sensitivity. Slick and messy, and Balthier winces as cold air touches heated skin, too, before he draws Basch's hand up to his mouth.

"It's been years," he says against Basch's palm, and then begins to fastidiously lick Basch's fingers clean.

"I've been a Judge with a name not my own."

"Exactly." Balthier says, between catlike swipes of his tongue. "A whole new reputation to tarnish."

"Is that your justification, Ffamran?"

Balthier doesn't answer save by sinking his teeth into the soft web of skin between Basch's thumb and palm. He can feel the wince tighten Basch's stomach muscles, and presses more sharply and warningly with his teeth before he lets go. Basch only laughs, pulling his hand free of Balthier's and with a wide scooping motion , pulls Balthier closer against him.

And then with the warmth of Basch against his back, he has a moment of weakness. A moment of age - where he discovers that he enjoys the comfort of the reassuring measure of something known.

That his slowing body and aging wounds are comforted by the closeness and stillness and steadiness of something from his past and in the moment of panic, Balthier goes rigid in the warm arms, tense against Basch's chest. He says, before he can stop himself, "Come with me."

He wonders, as silence answers, if it would have been kinder that he died in the crash. He has never forced Basch to say 'no' to him in the past. He has always known that it was his to break a heart first, and so kept hearts from staying so near to his own. But he can feel this one beating against his back in slow tandem.

And then Basch doesn't answer but to snore softly and - Balthier eases only a very little. He sighs, and smiles just the once, and lays for a few hours in thanks.

The climb down the wall in the pre-dawn is hell on his leg, but gentler to his hear than staying the full of his term.

-The End.
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