Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy XII, nor any of its characters.
Balthier beheld the slender glass tincture in his palm.
"W-Well, yes, sir…that alone is more than enough to dye a bolt of…of…pardon, what was it you said you were planning to dye, sir?"
He thought on it a moment.
"But sir, even diluted, that is enough for several bolts of wool!"
He raised an eyebrow.
Certainly a persistent old chap; though I suppose it is honest of him to deter me.
"It's a terrible lot of wool."
"Er-well…very well, sir. How many more do you need?"
"Perhaps four or five."
Balthier beheld his work, satisfied.
He cast about for the extra three phials of burgundy dye and supposed the merchant was right; admittedly, Balthier was a passionate shopper.
He shrugged, knowing full well that this promisingly bountiful heist would do more than assuage a few reckless buys.
Fran shifted, uncomfortable underneath him.
"Oh, I'm sorry, my dear. My mind seemed to have run off with me. Care to behold yourself?"
She didn't speak as he handed her the mirror.
She didn't speak as she handed it back to him either.
Now, he could never bring himself to say that Fran was not a team player – in fact, she was practically essential to success in nearly every plan he'd ever come up with.
This plan, however, had appeared to leave Fran with considerable misgivings.
It was a simple one, by his measure, and he couldn't quite understand her anxiety; they were to enter, undetected, and make away with the lot of it – so much loot it was impressive even to a seasoned sky pirate such as him.
Of course, it was exceedingly difficult to go unnoticed when one looked like Fran did, so he had made it a point to find common garb that would duly conform her.
And to be sure, he had even gone a slight outside of the norm and bought her bits of jewelry – still suitable, of course – partially because he could not stand to think Fran could look truly ordinary, and in case she happened to, well, a few trinkets never really hurt, right?
The dye had been essential – it was indeed rare for a Hume to have hair so snowy white without complaint about an achey back and wrinkles to supplement it.
"I am going to wash this filth out."
She got up and started towards the bathroom, now-auburn hair trailing behind her, on her tip-toes as she could not walk flat-footed – after a while, the amusement of it had dulled for Balthier, though it still made him resist a smile.
"But why, Fran? It's simply temporary, and besides, it seems such a waste to-"
"I am ill at ease."
He tried not to sigh.
"With what? Being costumed? Do not be so-"
"With being festooned and dressed up like a child's plaything."
"Why, because you cannot bear to be anything less than Viera?" he snorted. He'd admit it was a slight more venomous than the situation called for. "According to their standards, it's not like you are a Viera anymore."
Fran was quite adept at hiding feelings, but Balthier might have imagined he saw her nose twitch very slightly.
"Yet ill at ease I feel still," Fran said over her shoulder, in such an impassive voice it was scathing, "regardless of what I am no longer."
Balthier felt a faint rend in his chest at the fierceness he saw in her eyes, and paused for only a moment to check his pulse before following.
He found her delicately bent over the claw-foot tub, dipping the curling ends of her long hair into the water.
With barely veiled impassioned stress, she began to scrub.
"What are you doing?"
"Washing the dyes out, as I did tell you."
She said it in a voice best addressed to a stranger.
"You're being incredibly uncooperative, Fran, and I'll say I did not expect this of you."
"So involved in vanity as you are, expect I might that you would understand."
"Somehow, I feel as though your personal flair is not why you refuse this."
"Concern, is it, that your endeavor might not be successful without me?"
"Do not do me the grievous personal wrong of acting as though I do not care, Fran, because you know very well how I feel. You are my partner, an exemplary combatant, a remarkable thief, and you are aware that nothing except your safety is my main concern," Balthier said, frowning.
She said nothing, though she did seem to stifle a bout of insolence.
"You know, also, that you are alone in being the greatest mystery to me that I have ever encountered. You know very well that this particular caper will be easy, yet the key to its success is what you deem cause for tantrum?"
Her lips pursed, ever so minutely, but again, she said nothing in lieu of confirming his words, and continued washing the dyes out.
"Now explain to me, why is it that you are so very insulted at the suggestion of being disguised?"
"I would hardly call this-" she gestured at her attire, taking special time to point out the bangles at her ankles and the delicate, dangling head ornaments, "-a suggestion."
"Nonetheless," he said, undeterred.
She paused in her careful scrubbing.
"I do not like feeling as though I am not what I am," she said very quietly.
In a voice quieter still, she continued, "Even as I know not what I am."
"I certainly know what you are, Fran."
She didn't ask him what exactly he considered her to be.
She knew as he did that no amount of consolation would reconcile the distinct detachment.
She knew she only looked Viera now, and was not one any longer.
Still, to dress herself so seemed unnatural – it felt tantamount to tearing off her ears rather than hiding them underneath Hume silk head raiment, or forcing her feet flat when the tendons were no more flexible than if they were bone.
It is as painful, I am certain, she thought.
Perhaps, as Balthier had once suggested, retaining the black Viera armor and the untouched silver of her hair was her way of keeping close a sliver of home – of when she knew what she was.
"Fran, we needn't do this if it hurts you. We can find other ways-"
"No," she said quietly, and then reiterated, "No. The time has come and past where I should feel still so attached."
"And you're certain?"
"Well, my dear, I can't imagine doing this dyeing business again will be a cheerful venture. Will you promise not to move quite so much?"
She straightened her back and Balthier saw that almost half of her hair was white once more.
"Wha-How did you make such quick…All my hard work-"
Balthier instantly deflated.
Fran got up, wrung out its wetness, and gave him a hint of a smile.
"Be content that only did I manage the ends of it. Left to my own ends, white hair I would have again now," she said, and then relented with a barely audible sigh.
He, however, seemed cheered at the prospect of her nearly complete acquiescence.
She regarded him amicably. "How much remains?"
"Oh, I bought a bit more than necessary, you see, for future endeavors."
"I like not the sound of that."
A/N: I 3 Fran's hair.