Author's Note: Last chapter I have written and I will be on permanent hiatus from this particular story unless you people manage to convince me otherwise.

Ch. 17

Balthier was becoming rather bored with the pattern of minute imperfections in the ceiling of his room. He had already stared at them for a longer time than he wished to think about, tossed and turned a bit, and then stared at them some more. For one reason or another, he found himself completely unable to sleep this night. After a few more minutes of blankly staring at nothing in particular, he grumbled something incomprehensible (even to himself) and put a fist to his pillow. That was it, he was going to get himself out of bed and do something before he went entirely insane. Perhaps, he thought with a small smile, Fran would by some chance also be awake and he would have someone to talk to, as well as something far more pleasant to look at than his ceiling.

Walking down the hall, he discovered the Viera's door slightly ajar, allowing him to peek into her room. Fran lay on her bed, her limbs sprawled unceremoniously in somewhat awkward-looking directions. He could not help but smile quietly to himself. The scene was such an adorable departure from the grace and precision that characterized her conscious actions. Despite his hope that she would be awake, he really could not bring himself to be disappointed. He truly found her beautiful and would honestly be content to just stand there gazing at her, at least for a while. Besides that, he also thought it was good that she at least was getting some rest. Leaning against the door frame, he sighed slightly.

"Oh, I am hopelessly in love, aren't I?" he commented almost inaudibly. Not that he minded, obviously. Somehow when he ran away from his home, he had not expected to find himself a year later standing in a hallway of his own airship staring at the woman of his dreams, who seemed perfectly happy to be in a relationship with him. That decision really could not have turned out any better.

As he watched, Fran rolled over into a position that struck him as seeming far more comfortable than the previous one. He couldn't help but notice that the way the sheets fell wonderfully accentuated the perfect curves of her body (which of course left his thought trailing off onto the question of just how much clothing she was not wearing under those sheets). It took him a moment to catch himself drooling.

"Hmm, how unbecoming," he mumbled, forcibly dragging his train of thought back onto tracks that would be less likely to make the lovely Viera want to slap him. In any case, he was glad of the fact that the opportunity for views like this was a privilege exclusive to him. Well, with the possible exception of the Moogles, but he refused to be jealous of anything that stood at less than half his height.

A quiet whimpering sound from the interior of the room made the Hume feel a twinge of concern, though the Viera seemed to still be asleep. A moment later, she began to thrash about slightly.

"Bad dream?" he questioned, pushing the door open a bit further, though not yet deeming it worth waking her up. "What about, I wonder?" If her dreams were anything like his, they covered a very wide variety of subjects and in general it was best to simply let them play through, even if they were somewhat unpleasant. Unfortunately, the whimpering and thrashing seemed only to be getting worse.

"Fran?" he prompted softly from where he stood, unsure how light a sleeper she was and not wanting to scare her by suddenly appearing in her room, though he supposed suddenly appearing in the doorway wasn't so much different. Having no noticeable effect, he moved closer to her and touched her shoulder lightly. This too, seemed to have no effect, except that the Viera began mumbling quietly. He wasn't sure if that was related or not.

"No, Mjrn, don't follow…" The following words slipping into incoherence. Balthier made a mental note to ask later about who this Myrn was, then gave Fran's shoulder a slightly more forceful nudge.

"Fran," he repeated, "Wake up, love." This time he got some semblance of a response as she murmured something incoherent and limply attempted to swat his hand away. Fortunately for him, his reflexes were a little faster than the sleeping Fran's and he was able to remove his hand from danger. "Careful, dearest, you have claws there," he reminded, though the chance that she was awake enough to comprehend the words was slim. "Alright, up we get," he murmured, giving her shoulder another gentle poke. This time the Viera's eyes slitted open and she jumped away from Balthier, sitting up slightly as she returned to consciousness. "Just me," he assured, noticing that the poor woman looked both startled and confused. Gradually her expression began to show recognition.

"Balthier." It was a statement moreso than a greeting. "Did I oversleep?" He shook his head.

"No," he replied, "You seemed to be having a bad dream, so I woke you." Fran shifted her gaze toward the floor, looking mildly embarrassed.

"How did you know?" she asked. It was Balthier's turn to look mildly embarrassed. Well, you see I was standing in your doorway staring at you… He also noticed, in response to his earlier somewhat derailed train of thought, that while her normal attire left little to the imagination, it was now stripped down to just the cloth bits that covered little more than her most private parts. It was an absolutely glorious sight in his own very personal opinion. Right, she had asked him a question.

"I couldn't sleep so I was walking around and heard you whimpering." That sounded better. And it was mostly true. He sat down on the edge of her bed and lightly brushed his fingers through her soft, flowing hair. "Anything you want to talk about?" She shook her head and looked at him seriously.

"Sorry to bother you. I am fine." Balthier raised an eyebrow. He knew better than to be convinced by that. Even if it was something she didn't wish to talk about, she most certainly did not seem fine.

"You sure about that?" he inquired. She simply nodded, to which he frowned slightly and cocked his head to one side. "Who is Mjrn?" The Viera's gaze snapped to his immediately, her eyes wide. He could tell she was about to inquire as to where he had learned the name and what else he knew, so he saved her the trouble. "You mumbled something in your sleep," he explained, "'Mjrn, don't follow,' or something like that. Nothing else I could decipher." He idly wound a few strands of her long hair around his finger while still gazing at her apologetically. "It's alright if it's something you don't wish to talk about. I hadn't meant to eavesdrop." Fran nodded and was silent for a moment as she shifted into a full sitting position (which, Balthier noted quite happily, left her with even less cover from the sheets) .

"My sister," she finally said.

"Hmm?" Balthier prompted, making it obvious he was listening, though his fingers were still occupied with her beautiful hair. Fran smiled sadly.

"Mjrn is my younger sister. I have two. Jote is the older. Mjrn loved me much. She tried to follow when I left the Wood." The smile faded from her face. "I worry about her. She did not understand. I fear she may leave as well." The Viera shook her head. "It is pointless to worry. I know this." Meeting Balthier's gaze, she added, "I do not know why I tell you this. I need not burden you with my past." The Hume shook his head in response, and moved his hand to stroke the fur on her ear, a gesture he had discovered did quite a good job of relaxing her.

"It isn't a burden," he assured her, though he realized it was by precisely the same reasoning that he had avoided saying anything about his past to Fran. Her story confused him a bit, though. "Why is it bad to leave the Wood?" She had, after all.

"I do not think it is necessarily bad, only reckless. We cannot go back. It is forbidden. Even if it was not, the noise of the outside world deadens our ears. We can no longer hear the voice of the Wood. There is no point in returning. It is not a decision to be made lightly, or for the wrong reasons." She looked at Balthier seriously. "Do you remember when we first met?" The Hume nodded. How could he forget?

"You were crying," he recalled, wrapping his arms around the Viera, who relaxed against him.

"I was running. Forty some years I had spent with Humes and found no satisfaction. But I tried to run backwards, and found a dead end." Balthier felt her hands grasp the fabric of his shirt and attempt to pull him even closer. "That is why I told you that you would not understand. A Hume may understand the loss of contact with my sisters, but not the loss of the Wood herself." Balthier was silent for a moment as he worked on making as much sense of that as possible. His mind reeled slightly to realize that the length of time she had spent wandering more or less alone was more than twice his entire lifetime thus far. He knew Viera were long-lived, but it was difficult to think about in practical terms. Part of him was suddenly curious with regards to her age, but he decided it best not to ask. It didn't matter, anyway.

"I have no concept of what it is like to have sisters," he told her, after pondering the rest of her statement for a moment, "or brothers, for that matter. I had two siblings, from what I know, but there was a terrible bout of disease in Archades a couple of years before I was born and well, let's just leave it at I never met them." It was not something that made him sad, and he said it in the same tone he would use to present any fact. Fran nodded understandingly, which in her position had the general effect of nuzzling her farther into his chest. "I never knew my mother very well, either. She died when I was young. But as for the loss of contact with family members, it was my father who managed to leave an emotional scar." Fran pulled back from him a bit so she could look into his eyes.

"What happened?" Balthier shrugged.

"He went crazy. Became obsessed with his work and left me alone. The day I met you, it was my birthday. He had forgotten. I couldn't take it anymore, so I ran away. Flew, rather. In a stolen airship." He sighed. Thinking about that day, at least the earlier part of it, still frustrated him to an extent (The latter part he couldn't quite complain about, having been introduced to his two best Moogle friends as well as his dream lover.)

Suddenly there was a knock on the door, startling the two and causing them to instinctively jump away from each other a bit.

"It's me, kupo. Are you awake?" A very groggy Nono appeared at the door, not waiting for a response. "Kip is snoring again and I thought the floor might… Balthier?" The Moogle blinked a couple times, obviously trying to make sense of the scene in front of him. "This is Fran's room, right? Why are you both in here, kupo?" Balthier was sorely tempted to steer the Moogle toward a quite incorrect answer, but thought better of it. He decided to go with no answer whatsoever and let the Moogle make of it what he would.

"My room is presently unoccupied. You're welcome to make use of it until I want it back." Still confused, the sleepy Moogle simply nodded and wandered off down the hall.

Balthier chuckled softly.

"I guess he hadn't forgotten that offer after all. I wonder what he's going to conclude about us in the morning." Balthier could imagine any number of things that might come to the perky Moogle's mind.

"Probably nothing as improper as you hope," Fran muttered. Balthier smirked.

"Ah, the lady knows me well." It was one of the few times he had made the comment and actually meant it. "As for our previous conversation, I'll give you all the details later, provided you'd like to hear them. I feel I owe it to you. There are more things I'd like to ask about your Wood, as well." Not the least of which was his curiosity over what her own reasons for leaving were and whether she deemed them correct ones. He desperately wanted to think that she was actually happy with him and not simply biding the time. The Viera nodded and returned to her previous place snuggled into the Hume's chest.

"Later," she said, "I do not wish to think of it any more tonight." Balthier nodded, again lightly massaging her ears.

"Understandably. Though before we leave the subject entirely, I'd like to tell you that your ears are beautiful, even if they don't work as well as they may once have." He neglected to add that he also found them very warm and soft and nice to touch, though that should have been decently obvious from his actions.

"Thank you." The Viera murmured, then pulled back to look at the Hume. "What do you plan to do with the rest of the night?" Balthier raised an eyebrow at her.

"Let the Moogle sleep, of course." He hadn't planned it at all, but Nono had managed to give him a wonderful excuse for not returning to his room. Fran peered back at him quizzically.

"And what does that entail for me?" Balthier smiled and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. This one, he was going to leave up to her. He really needed a better sense of what she was looking for at this point anyway.

"As much or as little as you want it to," he told her, to which she simply nodded.

"Alright, then." She flopped over on the bed and pulled up the covers. "Good night." Balthier opened and closed his mouth a couple times, not sure in the slightest what he wanted to say to that.

"Fran, that's mean," he finally managed. She rolled over to face him, a terribly amused smirk on her lips. "You tease," he mockingly scolded. "Alright, you got me. I admit it." She nodded, seeming rather pleased with herself.

"That I did. You should have seen your face." Thinking about it, Balthier would admit it had to have been rather entertaining. He still thought that had been a rather mean trick. He also realized he was pouting like a petulant child at the moment, but he didn't quite care. Smiling reassuringly, the Viera moved one hand to rest lightly on the Hume's cheek. "Now get over here and kiss me." A smile returning to his lips, he decided that was more like it and did as he was told.