Between The Lines
A/N: Spoilers for Pharos of Ridorana, post-Bahamut, before Ashe's coronation.
The Viera gave the slightest of groans as cognizance finally returned to her, her jumbled senses gradually piecing together the surrounding environment. She pulled herself off the soft bed, sending her disheveled silver mane across her face and shoulders. Burgundy eyes travelled the room, starting from the half-open window to her far right, the plain whitewashed walls, to...
"Ah-- So you're finally up."
Fran's left ear twitched towards the source of the familiar voice, guiding her eyes until they finallly came upon her longtime partner, walking in through the room's open door. His footsteps were accompanied by the tap-tap of a crutch as he hobbled on a bandaged leg, his trademark smirk unwavering despite a matching injury on his left arm and a copious amount of gauze around his forehead. She stared at Balthier the whole time he walked across the room to a nearby and well-sat chair, the rare sight of the invincible leading man in disrepair slowly bringing the unused recesses of her memory back to the forefront of her mind.
"...We're alive." She said simply after a few moments. To her surprise, Balthier laughed, the kind that starts from the diaphragm and comes out in rich staccato, the kind Fran knew meant that her partner was genuinely amused.
"You sound disappointed, Fran," the pirate managed once his mirth had faded, though the juxtaposition of Fran's neutral face only made it more difficult. "...Though I have to admit...after an exit like that, I'm almost surprised that it wasn't our final curtain."
"Spare the theatrics for today," Fran said with a huff, though her voice never went an octave above her normally quiet tone. "...I'm feeling a little tired."
"You should be, with the shape you're in." Fran nodded as she leaned against the headboard, unaware that compared to Balthier she looked much worse for the wear, wrapped in bandages up to her collarbone and by a sudden acknowledgement of half-sight, she realized that her right eye had a patch over it. "It's pretty bad, I know," Balthier added when he noticed her hand running over the patch, "...But it should heal up on its own in a few weeks. Heh, after all this time, I still don't know anything about Viera medicine."
"You did what you could. Don't trouble yourself for more than that."
"...I suppose you're right," Balthier admitted, though something flitted across his face that suggested he was in fact troubling himself over the very matter and was gone just as quickly.
"...How long was I out, Balthier?"
"Oh, not long. About three months." At the number Fran blinked, an uncharacteristic look of surprise on her face. Though her people did heal slowly, she wasn't aware that her wounds could have been that bad. For a moment Fran wanted to apologize for being a bother, but she hesitated instead and decided to change the subject.
"Where are we now?"
"My my, you're quite the talkative one today aren't you?" Balthier teased as he adjusted himself in the seat, trying to get more comfortable without putting too much weight on his beat-up leg. "Not far from Rabanastre, around the Nalbina outskirts. Managed to get a room from a group of Moogles, though I can't say I like dealing with the little pickpockets more than I have to." Fran said nothing upon being reminded of her partner's animosity toward the race of petite extortionists, only turned away briefly to hide the flicker of a grin on her lips.
A few moments later one of them came in, a tiny cat-eared Moogle with silver fur that carried a tray of bread and water, placing the humble meal beside Fran and eyeing her expectantly as if waiting for a tip. To her relief Balthier threw the Moogle a few Gil from his right pocket, shooing it out of the room with the end of his crutch.
"Eat up. I'll bet you're h--" Balthier began, stopping when he turned back to the tray to find one of the three loaves already being devoured by the famished Viera. "Well, just go ahead without me," the pirate scoffed before gingerly talking one for himself, tearing it carefully while Fran began gulping down her glass of water. For a while they ate in silence, the comfortable and easy sort that years of living together had afforded, Fran making no noise despite her haste while Balthier couldn't help feeling like a barbarian by comparison.
"...We'll need to think about getting the Strahl back at some point," Balthier said out of nowhere while he split the last loaf, handing Fran the bigger half which she took with a bit more visible restraint. "I'll bet anything that Vaan's already scratched up the new paint. Maybe even busted the engine once or twice..."
"That," Fran interjected once she had swallowed the chunk of bread in her mouth, "...or we could always find a new airship."
"Really? And maybe I could find a new co-pilot..."
"Don't forget that this 'co-pilot' happens to be your only on-board mechanic, Balthier," the Viera teased back, her eyes betraying the humor that her face was easily hiding, and after a while the pirate only smiled and went back to his meal. He'd known that Fran had been yanking his chain from the start--as if he could find a better flyer than the Strahl. Or a better partner.
"Well, I'd better let you be, Fran. Go ahead and get some more rest."
"Balthier, I've been sleeping all this time. I really don't think I sh--" But he was already out the door, calling over his shoulder that she wouldn't make it three steps for another few weeks. The Viera half-wanted to get up right then to prove the cavalier pirate wrong, but instead she plopped back onto her pillow with a surprising lack of grace. She WAS tired, Fran realized, and as her eyes slid shut she was quietly grateful that she had someone who knew her limits just as she knew his.
The clatter of wood hitting the floor was what snapped Fran awake again, except this time the room was illuminated by the dim glow of twilight. Before she could make an attempt to turn her bedside lantern on, her partner spoke from the place where the chair had been before.
"Sorry, Fran-- must've knocked it over when I dozed off."
"...What are you doing here, Balthier?" It was far from an angry query, but there was still a hint of accusation in her voice; even when they slept on the Strahl he had never once been in her room, nor had he invited her to his. It kept things simple that way, they'd both decided.
"...Ah...I forgot to tell you that I only managed to get one room, didn't I?" he asked nervously, a genuine look of discomfort on his face.
"And how long have you been sleeping in that chair?" She watched the pirate as he remained silent, apparently unable to provide an answer, not wanting to betray that he'd barely left the spot in the entire time she was unconscious, and ultimately decided to ignore the question.
"...It's not that bad, really. Just a little...uncomfortable," he finished in a half-whisper as a sudden bolt of pain shot up his sore back. At her persistent looks of skepticism he gave a sigh of defeat, groaning as he leaned back. "I know, I know... but I couldn't very well take the bed when you need it, now could I?"
"It's not like you to think that I need special treatment, Balthier."
"Heh...No, you've never been that sort of girl, have you?" The former Judge stated with a grin, chuckling for a moment before letting the room grow silent, save for the symphony of insects just outside the open window. It was nearly a minute, when Balthier was sure his partner was asleep, before Fran surprised him by breaking the silence.
"...There is something on your mind, isn't there?" He jumped slightly at the unexpected whisper of her voice, but calmed when he made contact with the Viera, crimson orbs searching chocolate ones for understanding. Noticing a few stray locks that had travelled to cover her face, Balthier instinctively reached to move them, but hesitated until Fran understood his intent and gave him a slight nod to indicate that she didn't mind.
"...Sorry," Balthier said again with an odd sort of smile, pushing her silver hair to the side with the utmost care, "...I've got to admit, you had me...a little worried back there." Fran blinked, no other betrayal of her stoic expression present on her face. Nor did she react any more when she felt his hand slowly cup her face, a callused thumb resting just beneath her lower lip. Balthier leaned forward, just enough that she could see what was written in his barely illuminated eyes.
She recognized it, remembered it too well; the gesture was not lost on her. Fran could see history repeated in that moment-- what she had felt at the peak of the Pharos, that had broken through her mask at that brief moment and had made her reach out to Balthier, cradle the cheek of the man that had come to be a brother, a friend, a companion and something indescribably more as she faced the oft-denied possibility of being separated forever-- it was all written on his face, catching up to him now. The viera was suddenly aware of the pressure on her face increasing, but only in glancing over did she see that her hand had moved of its own will and was gently squeezing his, being careful not to let her nails scratch the palm. They stayed like that for nearly a minute before he leaned forward again, speaking quietly.
He was less than an inch from her indecisive lips before he doubled over in pain, his tense spine acting against him. In seconds the tension disappeared, leaving Fran with a slight grin on her face while she sighed exasperatedly and Batlhier clutching his lower back and cursing just under his breath, the impassive exterior nowhere to be found. After a moment he straightened up, sweat running down his forehead from the stress, feeling even farther from his self-proclaimed image of the 'leading man' than before. He chuckled while scratching the side of his face in shame, looking anywhere but at his partner while acting like he was embarrassed about what he'd nearly attempted. He half expected Fran to be upset with him but she was only looking at the pirate calmly, understanding without anything needing to be said.
"Get some rest, Balthier," she said as she tossed him one of her extra pillows and the top blanket. He nodded, then set it behind his head as he leaned back in the chair, making sure to put the crutch down this time.