a k a n t h a e - h i m e
Authoress' Note & Disclaimer: I've got no idea what this is supposed to be. (As always.) The symbolism in this was thought up on the spot, so apologies if it's really cliche or lame or whatever. But I think pairing Fran and Ashe is fun to do, though this more focuses on Ashe than Fran and it's more platonic than romantic. Essentially, though, it works. That's what I'm satisfied with.
(Standard disclaimer applies.)
"What is the name of this place?"
Fran glances around. Her eyes, as ever, are quick in passing, ignoring the woman to whom this question is directed in favor of the new setting that she must ingest. This is not out of aestheticism, because if Fran wanted beauty she would look Balthier's way, but because Fran is a short-sighted person. Everything she sees is frayed at the edges after she's done with it.
She, like Ashe - who could be her sister if it were not for her looks and their age and her lineage (people say Fran looks it, but Fran is no royal; her blood is as common as dirt) - does not like seeing the big picture. With that comes a tendency to accept things and make them her own: Ashe, standing in front of Fran with her arms folded across her chest and a proud grin plastered all over her face, knows that Fran sees a threat behind every leaf, as well as an answer to all of her questions hidden under the rows of fledging saplings that line either side of the path.
Fran's question, one of many, dangles in the air like one of the blossoms on the leaves of the trees, so fragile that it might as well just fall to the ground and bury itself under others of its kind.
"Whatever you want it to be."
(This is not the answer that Ashe would have chosen, but the one that Fran expects.)
Ashe smiles, and takes the older woman's hand as she leads the viera down the path step by step. With every step, Fran grows more curious, and this concept of questioning is what Ashe loves most about Fran, though it means that Fran will never allow herself to see Ashe as she truly is.
Duty must always comes first, and so Ashe is content with her companionship as Fran is content with simply remaining Balthier's co-pilot...as Vaan and Penelo share the same roles. Ashe has forgotten the name of their ship, but she is sure that it is something beautiful because Penelo knows what a name means.
Penelo is the one - and not Fran - who knows that it is only Ashelia's name that ties her to this country, and that it is under that name which all atrocities that must be commited for Dalmasca to survive are commited. Dalmasca means something in the language of the gods, something that Penelo probably knows, but Fran has never asked Penelo.
(Fran and Penelo and Ashe - companions, sisters, and more than that when it all boils down to the possibility that there is more than one definition for the word love.)
They reach the first breach in the path together, Fran and Ashe, Ashe and Fran. Fran deigns to take the left path, and Ashe follows her. Fran knows these trees, though she cannot converse with them or hear anything more than the wind in their branches, and she still wants to know how this came to be.
Ashe lingers when they reach the fountain. There are lilies floating in the fountain and the face of the angel holding the gourd of water above the cascading waterfall is broken up by clinging strands of ivy. There is a shocked expression on the angel's face where there should be a smile.
Where Ashe cannot reach the angel, Fran is just tall enough to reach over the water (dirty in places where no man has touched the bottom in eons) and stroke the angel's still windswept locks, chipped goldleaf rubbing off onto her sepia-colored skin.
Ashe, taking the viera's hand, wipes it off and bends down over the fountain's rim to where the water might still flow if it weren't for those clusters of ivy. She lets her hand, the one smeared with gold and dirt and scars, trail through the water. But the lily she picks cannot be plucked - its roots are too secure, so stubbornly unmoving, and Fran asks with silent eyes why Ashe must deprive the fountain of one of the many things that makes it so beautiful.
Ashe already knows that Fran sees a different sort of beauty in things than she does. This reinforces that. Fran doesn't like to disturb the natural order of things, but she does tend to peel things apart to find out what they're made of. That makes her a hypocrite, doesn't it? Because order is just another thing to be broken into parts, though when she destroys it, Fran finds that it is much easier to make it as it used to be. The changes that she makes are negated by the changes that happened even while she was stripping all of the parts away to find the core.
(A night comes to mind, where the Fran that Ashe loves is swept away by the new Fran's fervent desire to strip her of all her armour and find out what is underneath. So too is Ashe curious what lies underneath Fran's armor, and they find out simultaneously in the throes of pleasure where no one can disturb them because they are too far gone to matter. Ashe is not embarassed afterwards, but Fran dresses silently and leaves by climbing down the balcony, and it is then that Ashe allows the tears to trail down her face, her neck, her breast, to where Fran regrets leaving scars.)
Ashe smiles again. The golfleaf rubs off onto the plant, dissolving into the water as Fran clasps her other hand - it bleeds where she presses her nails too harshly on Ashe's palm - to keep her from falling. But because Ashe no longer cares, she lets her hair, the color of distilled champagne and fog, trail through the water as she presses her face through the pseudo-mirror. She sees nothing underneath and suddenly she is afraid. When she tries to re-emerge, she cannot remove her face and the icy collar that was not there is now there around her neck.
Choking, Ashe searches for Fran's hand, flailing even as she loses use of her legs, her arms.
Without warning, Ashe knows instinctively that her heart has stopped. This is when Fran pulls her away from the fountain, and as Ashe rubs her neck with a hand she cannot see - her eyes are closed, she thinks, but she is wrong - she finds that the collar is gone and that something sticky and slippery and quite possibly red coats her skin. She wipes her hand on her thigh and then comes to realize that she cannot see that either, though she can feel bare skin where there should be smooth cloth.
Slowly, as slowly as Ashe can without freezing in fear as she had moments before, the princess reaches with shaking hands to feel her face.
As if she expects it, it does not surprise her.
Her face is gone.
And then she feels Fran's warm breath on her forehead, warm like the sun but with the smell of mint and freshly turned dirt, and Ashe simply stands there as Fran begins the difficult job of recovering Ashe's identity because Ashe is lost and cannot leave without it. Fingers tipped with sharp nails and tiny shards of gemsteel rub off the water, smooth the wrinkles that Ashe has acquired from being queen, and the contours of Fran's body mold with hers as she comes to realize that her mouth is still on her face, a set of smooth puckered lips, but another conflict comes along when she opens them and finds that she can only take in air. She cannot expel any, and she begins to cry once Fran has pressed her lips where her eyes should be and they emerge from the nameless mass of flesh that used to be under Ashe's control alone.
Her eyelashes are soon soaked. This she finds surprising, because she had always had short eyelashes, but then she realizes that these are Fran's eyelashes. Behind her, the ivy is withering, the fountain coming back to life even as the ivy recedes and the lilies grow even larger. But then Ashe is struck with confusion once again - if she remembers right, it is february, and flowers never bloom all year round in Dalmasca. Sometimes it will happen in the part of Archadia that was once Landis, and there are certain small shrubs in the Necrohol that are both poisonous and potentially everlasting, but Dalmasca's flowers writhe in the heat of summer and flourish in the dead of winter, in a country where no snow touches the ground and if it does it is that of Mist's illusion, sand, or magick.
Ashe wipes her eyes angrily.
She is supposed to be queen, Dynast-Queen, over Dalmasca and her own lonely self. She is supposed to save others, supposed to be the lady and the knight at the same time and save herself...but never has she handed over the role of knight - of prince, though Ashe does know that viera have no males and they are accustomed to loving others of the same gender - to someone else. It seems that Fran has not accepted this role, instead taking it because she can. (There is a difference.)
"Hush, my one," - for this is the viera way of proclaiming lovers - "for tears fertilize nothing but death. You must remember we are in a garden, and death must not visit a garden unless it has nowhere else to go."
Ashe whimpers underneath Fran's touch, enveloped in the other woman's arms where she quivers like a leaf, and Fran's only response is hugging her tighter. (She must not let go.) Ashe buries her head in Fran's chest, ignoring the cutting edge of her armour, but when she pulls away she finds that the garden is melting away as all of Ashe's nightmares do, disappearing into a place that is both Eden and Ivalice. Fran frowns; and then suddenly they are the only things there, save for the fountain, which is devoid of water.
The angel, likewise, has lost its face. Ashe screams and she cannot stop, so shocked is she by this sudden turn of events; Fran smiles patronizingly at her, but it looks more like Balthier's signature smirk than Fran's enigmatic gesture: "Save it," is all she says.
Then she too is gone. Ashe is left alone there, in the dreams' equivalent of a wasteland. An inexplicable fear engulfs her, taking the form of a jade cocoon made with mythril and nethicite, and this is all because she simply does not understand.
Eons away from where she wants to be, Ashe wakes up and begins to cry.
(She has forgotten what it means to walk in a garden.)