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Rabanastre’s heat was cruel and suffocating. It wasn’t made for the armour of an Archadian Judge. Basch felt as if he was being baked alive in the pitch-black armour he wore dutifully in his role of Gabranth. But still, he had missed Dalmasca. Had missed the sun and the people and even the goddamn sand that got everywhere.

It was for the occasion of Ashe’s coronation that Basch had arrived as part of the Emperor’s delegation. Security was tight since Dalmasca still remembered the last time a Solidor had set foot into Rabanastre. There was no small chance someone would try to break into the quarters of the Palace that had been assigned to Larsa for the duration of his stay and try to take revenge.

The sound of footsteps made him perk up. His grip on the hilt of the Highway Star tightened. He saw two short forms shot past him and tackle him and groaned more in frustration than any sort of pain. Obviously those two would manage to sneak in.

“Don’t try to resist! You’re being kidnapped!”

Basch just stared at the two blondes in front of him blankly. Vaan kept tugging at his arms while Penelo pushed him from behind. With a sigh, let himself be moved by the young fearsome sky pirates who were really doing their best. He supposed he could humour them for a bit.

“Did Larsa put you up to this?”

“Oh. Umm… no. He absolutely did not.”

“If you look a man into the eyes, it might give your lies more weight.”

“He said you wouldn’t come visit us otherwise! That you’re always busy with work, hovering around him!”

“That is my duty.”

“That was Gabranth’s duty. I know you’re pretending to be him and I understand, it’s just...”

Vaan let out a frustrated sigh.

“Can’t you still be Basch sometimes? I liked Basch a lot better...”” The young man crossed his arms. Was that a pout?

“Why do you need to wear some dead man’s armour anyway?”

“I promised him. We may see peace now, but should Larsa die… I would not see the two of you be caught up in the warring of crueler men yet again.”

“You saw what it did to your brother, denying his own self for years. I don’t want to meet you again in twenty years, spouting the same self-hatred and bile.”

Vaan put his hands behind his head, twirling on the spot.

“And besides. Larsa won’t die so easily! Surely he can be on his own without you holding his hand every minute of the day! He’s got Zargabaath too. The guy wanted to ram the Bahamut straight out of the sky!”

“That was really cool!” Penelo added from behind Basch as she pushed him forward, or at least Basch let her think that. It was refreshing to see young people be just that. Young and free. Life as a sky pirate suited those two.

“Yeah. He won’t let Larsa be harmed.”

Penelo jumped on Basch’s back, letting her legs dangle happily as they made their way through the Palace’s quiet corridors.

“But if you’re that worried, I can have an eye for him today,” she said and dropped down on the floor gracefully. “And you two can catch up!”

With a wink and a bow, Penelo left the two men to themselves before Basch could stop her. He was really getting old. But perhaps Larsa would be happier too with the company of a friend nearer his age instead of the stolen face of someone Basch could never be, oath or no.

“I keep hearing about your exploits. Is it what you dreamed of then, being a sky pirate?”

Vaan nodded eagerly.

“You should see our ship, it’s so cool! Way cooler than the Strahl!”

“Perhaps some other time.”

“That probably means never, huh? Don’t you have any dreams but… this?” Vaan pointed at Basch’s armour. Noah’s armour. Basch had been wearing it for over a year now, and it felt as alien on him as the first day.

“My duty lies to peace, Vaan. And this is how I keep the peace. For all its might, the Empire is a fickle construct with the last scion of House Solidor being all that holds it together.”

“Like some badly glued together monstrosity. Man, I don’t envy Larsa.”

“So you see what I must do? To place such a burden upon him at this time… Would that I could return to Dalmasca and remain, but I shall not leave his service for as long as he desires it. For as long as he has need of it.”

“And when he no longer needs you? Then will you come back?”

When would that be? When were politicians ever done scheming, when was peace ever truly eternal? But it was true that Larsa was no helpless child even now. A puppet Emperor they had wished for, but Larsa was no such thing and would never be. There would come a time when he would no longer have need of Basch’s imitation of his brother.

“Fates be willing,” Basch said quietly.

Vaan smiled. He seemed pleased with that answer.

Before Basch could word any protest, Vaan grabbed him by the collar and pulled him down. The kiss had all the passion only Dalmasca could offer. Basch found himself moaning into Vaan’s open and ready mouth. He gasped for air when he was let go after long minutes.

Vaan was staring at him with fire in his eyes. No one looked at him like that in Archadia. No one looked at Gabranth like that. He was nothing more than a feared sentinel of law. He wasn't a person any more, but a piece of armour. How had Noah lived with it for all those years? To be nothing but an idea, and never a man? Basch wanted to be a man.

When he leaned down again to feel that desire once more, Vaan held him back with a grin.

“Just so you know, that was for Basch. Not Gabranth. If you want another one, come back to Rabanastre as yourself!”

 Basch smiled in return.

"I shall hold you to that."