part I: the deal
Balthier and Fran stood shoulder to shoulder in the massive hall, admiring or perhaps detesting how polished smooth the floors were. They looked like water, reflecting the walls and ceilings above them with crystal clarity, and as the Lady Ashe walked toward them from across the hall, Balthier was half surprised there weren't ripples spreading with each soft footstep.
"It is very different from when we were last here," Fran said softly to him. He glanced up at his tall, rabbit-eared companion and saw she was smiling mischeiviously. He couldn't help but do the same; last time they'd been in the palace they'd been there to rob it. Plunder it dry, even. There didn't seem to be any ancient treasures or trunks full of coin laying around to tempt them, though he was sure they could scrounge up a few valuables if given enough time.
"Thank you both for coming," Lady Ashe said as she finally drew closer. She was wearing a long, flowy dress that still didn't seem to suit her. When you first met someone fleeing through an elaborately designed mazelike sewer, it was hard to wrap your head around seeing them in pristine, royal finery. Hell, it was hard to wrap your head around the person in question being any kind of royalty, much less the leader of a country. A small country, but still a country nonetheless. First impressions were hard to shake. "I presume since you're here you've decided to take the job?"
Fran and Balthier looked at each other with a practiced expression designed to make the third party second guess themselves. They'd had years of dealmaking to master nonverbal communication, and they fell into their learned roles automatically. Fran was often the threatening muscle, being taller than practically every human, and if they knew anything about viera strength they'd be wary even when she was weaponless. Balthier was crafty and could pull a cruel looking scowl, one he'd learned from the cruelest man he knew, his own late father. Combine Balthier's ability to verbally dance around a point seemingly ad infenetum, Fran's quiet but clever gallows humor, and the confidence one got when carrying concealed weapons, and they could play most people like a fiddle.
Unlucky for them, though, was the fact that Ashe was what they'd call a friend, and an important political figure, and she did allow them to pass through her newly regained country without added heat or increasing any bounties on their heads. She'd been downright quiet about them ever since being reinstated as the rightful heir to the throne, despite them being active criminals. And Balthier and Fran had been very careful not to brush up against Ashe's law. No theif wanted boundaries, but the duo had to acknowledge how it was to their benefit to have Lady Ashe as a neutral party, if not an ally. Not that any of the three of them would admit so out loud.
(image is from wallpaper site this time.)