Questionable Status

' Ghhn.'

His collapse is deliberately slow, no sudden movements, as he drops to his knees in the centre of the skirmish and ducks his head, raising his arms protectively as he still has the presence of mind not to want to be trampled.

He has just been hit with almost every known and imaginable status ailment at once and curling up into an almost foetal ball on the red gritty ground is all he can think to do to prevent his mind from scattering like dust in the wind.

Sounds roll around in his head, whispers crash like boulders and shouts whisper insidiously, akin to sloshing water in a bucket, his skull being the bucket.

He has been blinded and can only see the dancing kaleidoscope of his own blood pulsing angrily in the tiny capillaries tracing his eyelids. The furious flow dazzles him.

If he had been capable of speech and not stricken mute by magick he might have screamed.

There is a pressure behind his eyes that contains the force of a raging river flimsily dammed inside his brain.

There are insects crawling under his skin. He can feel them.

If he could just see clearly enough and remember how to move his arms, he could reach for the dagger hanging from his belt.

He felt sure that he could dig the insects out of his skin with that.

Suddenly he is blinded by the light, he growls deep in his throat as he squeezes his eyes closed and shies away from the bright, harsh light of day.

It was only then that he realises he can see, and formulate sounds once more.

It is a shame, the part of his enflamed brain that is not drowning in confusion concedes that he has forgotten what language is.

His fingers are curled painfully tightly into fists and pressed rigidly into his knees as he kneels on the mossy, reddish ground of the Mosphoran Highwaste.

He is hyperventilating and although he can now see he cannot comprehend. It is all harsh light and cold shadow, roaring silence and whispering noise.

The harsh, repellent stench of smelling salts cause him to react with his fists; he hears a yelp as his fist catches a jaw.

A little harder, maybe using this rock lying on the ground and he could break that flimsy length of bone.

He could break lots of things. Snap, snap, crack.

The sound of a clean break is a unique and exquisite sound.

The wet crunch of a compound fracture has its charms too.

Where was that rock?


Fumbling for the rock his hand brushes against something else, something with two inch long claws. He sees inhumely long fingers, delicate and graceful yet somehow obscene. Skin the colour of cinnamon.

If he could get to a rock he could smash that hand, all the bones crushed to powder under that smooth, glossy skin. Skin that would rupture and split like a thin skein of silk stretched over ripened fruit.


The voice is like a cool breeze through his mind, calming him fractionally, capturing his attention he turns his head seeking the sound, forgetting his search for a blunt implement.

The twin of that long delicately lethal hand curves around the back of his head, the touch burns and he tries to jerk away.

He can not breathe and his heart labours. Everything burns inside him and his blood erodes his veins like acid.

He truly loathes berserker rages; there is something eminently vulgar about them.

' Hey – Fran, is he going to be alright?'

Another voice, male, disgustingly young, not welcome.

Where was that rock?

The brutally elegant hand at the back of his head pulls him, inexorably, towards her shoulder.

Her hair always smells of sage and is as soft as liquid cobweb. Her skin has a texture different from anyone else he'd ever known. Almost as if it has been lacquered in a silkscreen.

He is infinitely happier with his forehead resting against her shoulder and face cushioned in her hair.

' It is the berserker infliction, it causes him pain and mental confusion.'

'Huh, why?'

It was strange to be resting his head on the same shoulder Fran chose to raise in casual dismissal of another one of Vaan's bloody stupid questions.

Vaguely he wonders if bludgeoning the youth to death with the butt of his rifle would be considered justifiable under the circumstances?

Perhaps he should enact the plan and find out?

Where was that rock?

'Leave us.' Fran intoned.

'But we need to make camp, can he not just walk?'

The Princess.

Supercilious, appallingly dressed, insecure, poor conversationalist; incomprehensibly uptight for a woman dressed like that.

He tries to lift his head and point out to her vaulted Highness that he can talk for himself, and kindly do not address him as if he wasn't there, perhaps punctuating the statement with a well aimed rock to her pretty, highborn brow?

Fran's hand holding his head against her shoulder is as immovable as stone. She knew he was sure, of what he was thinking.

Did it count as regicide to kill a queen not yet enthroned?

' We will find you.' Fran insists.

'Princess, it is relatively safe in this area, they will be fine, let us move on and set up camp.'

Ah, good, the Captain. There was a man who understood the finer points of regicide.

Still the man was exceedingly irritating with all the wit and sparkle of a potato, perhaps a rock to the cranium would improve his disposition?

Even if it didn't he had a nearly physical craving to cave in the man's skull, or in fact, anyone's skull who came into his immediate vicinity.

Damn berserker rage.

The claw tip of Fran's index finger started to tickle the hair at the nape of his neck. Thoughts of mindless slaughter slip away as his over-sensitized, over-heated and twitchy flesh reacts to this one subtle motion.

He manages to turn his head just a little on her shoulder so that he can look down at his own hand resting limply on her thigh.

He flexes his fingers across her leg meditatively.

It occurs to him, and various parts of his anatomy that could be seen to have a mind of their own at times, that there were other things one could do to relieve excess stress and energy rather than caving in skulls with rocks.

' A storm is coming.' Fran tells him.

He loves her non-sequiturs.

His mind laps up her meaningless statement because he can't cope with logic, reason, complex themes, and anything not involving some form of primal physical activity right now.

' Mmm Fran.'

Feeling tenuously calmer in the safety of her embrace he is mortified by his inarticulate response, but words are too difficult and slippery for his throbbing, pulsing spinning psyche to properly manipulate.

'The rain will sooth you, be still.'

He growls instantly irritated. He cannot be still! His muscles spasm with the desire to inflict heinous acts of violence, his heart threatens to rend itself apart with each thump.

He wants to……he wants…..

He kisses her long, swanlike neck because it is there and she feels so very, very good. The first drop of rain falls.

Fran continues to tickle the nape of his neck with her claws. Mind and body back on speaking terms he slips an arm around her waist and shifts into a more comfortable kneeling position.

The supple leather of her clothing is so flexible, so butter smooth, it does not feel like leather, it breaths with her and clings like a second skin.

'It's raining Fran.'

He informs her as the rain slides down like a solid curtain, the scent of dry dust meeting clean rain rises around them both and he sighs and shifts away from her.

This is a mistake, his head reels and he presses the heel of his hand against his forehead as angry red shards strike behind his closed eyelids.

When a graceful hand moves towards his shoulder he knocks it away with his own arm, jerking away from her touch.

A crash of thunder rends the tumultuous sky as he drags himself to his feet and stumbles towards the jagged red cliff face of one of the rock formations dotting the Highwaste.

Lightening blinds him, and the flinty, sharp splinters of rock score his hands as he tries to follow the line of the cliff in hope of finding shelter.

From behind him long, sinuous arms wrap around his chest and ease him away from the cliff turning him to face her and pulling him into her arms.

' Foolish Hume.'

Clever, calm, commanding hands cup his face and tilt his head upwards. He can't focus on her face because there are too many other things to alarm him.

Shadows move with serpentine grace, twisting and writhing at the edge of his awareness, forks of lightening score across his retina and leave phantom images of strange and alien design in their wake.

He can hear things – nasty, creeping, crawling things – moving under foot. The whole of the Highwaste suppurates with wriggling, slimy creatures. His fingers itch to strike out at the filth and vermin.

His hands reach upwards, hesitantly, until he wraps his fingers tightly around her deceptively slim, delicate wrists, as she holds his head immobile.

The scream lodged in his throat prevents speech. He bites down on his bottom lip so hard he tastes copper.

The tang of blood zings through his being and stirs a bloodlust which is unnatural to his usually languidly reserved character.

He wants to hurt something; or at least the fever that holds him in sway wants it. Blood demands blood. There is a violent singing in his veins.

' Fight and you will only hurt yourself.'

When she kisses him it does not taste of blood. She tastes like snow and mint; cool, sweet, enticing.

The rain is not cold but it is pervasive.

He is shivering as the rain saturates his vest, making the velvet embroidered leather intolerably heavy and uncomfortable. His shirt sleeves are soaked through, his hair is a disgrace.

Rain drops bead on her skin and run down her graceful curves in glistening rivulets, their passage fascinates him.

Her hair, so soft and fine, still manages to hold the droplets like a tiara of crystal tears in her loose curls.

He is completely and utterly confused. This annoys him; he does not like the loss of control. The leading man must always know what he is about.

Annoyance shades into anger, it is hot and solid and blazes red and black behind his eyelids and it does not belong inside him. He wants it gone. He wants to carve into his own flesh to remove it.

Fran leads him quietly by the hand down a narrow slope towards a crack in the rock face that is just wide enough for Viera and man to slip through sideways to emerge into a secluded cave.

The cave walls glow with their own luminescence. For a moment he thinks of magicite and Nethicite and the anger inside lunges for freedom.

He wants to tear chunks of the shimmering quartz from the walls with his bare hands. He wants to throw himself against those walls until he is broken and bloody just to get this insidious, biting fury out of him.

Fran is there however and she leads him to sit on the sandy floor of the cavern and kneels beside him.

'Breathe.' She bids him.

But he can't breathe. Doesn't she understand? Doesn't she realise that this is not supposed to happen to him?

He is the leading man. He does not lose control. He has to be always the one with the incisive comment, the one with the plan.

The one who does not let the world affect him.

' Let go and breathe.' She tells him.

In defeat he buries his head against her shoulder and inhales her scent greedily. She holds him and starts to unpick the complicated series of ties and clasps that keep the rain logged vest hanging from his shoulders like a lead weight.

When he has divested himself of the vest it is easier to breathe and he feels just infinitesimally better.

She is removing her greaves and spiked heeled boots.

He could watch her do this for hours on end. So precise are her movements as she stretches out one leg and then the other, leaning so her hair trails the ground, fingers unwinding strings and flicking clasps.

Her feet are long and high arched, her toes clawed. She has, he thinks, the most beautiful feet in the history of creation. If he could remember how, he would tell her so.

He would like to remind himself to compliment her later but as he is not sure who exactly he is he does not hold out much hope that he shall remember.

So instead he reaches out to catch an errant trail of rainwater that escapes the netting of her lace stomach veil and races down her left thigh. He retraces the path of that raindrop with one finger, sliding up her inner thigh.

Years of partnership and he does now and again forget how tall she truly is. Moments like this as her legs seem to go on for miles remind him that she is like no other woman he will ever know.

He looks up at her face and she smiles. It is barely perceptible but his senses, straining to break free of the confines of Hume awareness, can see so much more clearly now.

For just a moment, gazing stricken into her large, almond eyes tinted a shade that no Hume possessed, he feels as though he knows himself once more. He can almost remember his name.

A shriek and a growl from beyond the entrance to the cavern has him scrabbling for his feet, seeking a weapon to bring to hand, heart thundering.

The red rage rises, relishing the thought of felling the creature that dares invade his territory.

He wants to ……he wants ….

Fran curves her hand around his jaw and turns his head away from the narrow entrance to the cave, forcing him to stare only at the Inhume symmetry of her face. She wraps her legs around him as she pulls him against her body.

Ah, but now he remembers! He remembers what he wants now.

He wants her.

The red anger, the beast within, slinks away chased back inside the dark cell he chains all his darker impulses away in.

He tastes her deeply and reaches up to dig his fingers into her hair, she shifts her body until she straddles his lap, inching his shirt up over his head.

The supple sheath of black leather that she wraps herself in is an encumbrance he would sooner do without.

Thankfully he has had sufficient practice with this garment that he does not need to be in full control of his faculties to remove it.

It is just as well as his psyche is wheeling and spinning for entirely different reasons now. There is a high, sweet singing in his ears. He does not know if it is the song of his blood pulsing in his veins or if it is she.

His tingling flesh jerks and twitches under the sprinting light ministrations of her long, clever, dangerous fingers.

There is a fine line between agony and ecstasy; he knows this because she is pushing him over that line right now.

When her wicked fingernails pierce the flesh of his back the feeling is one of relief, the torrent of pent up rage and confusion, the deluge of emotion and sensation that he does not, and has never known how to control, is released.

The scent of copper and salt is heavy in the air.

The height difference is not so much a complication as an opportunity to explore new and different positions, they have always found.

Despite this he almost always finds himself on the bottom. He can see all the colours of the spectrum, the rainbow prisms hidden in the deepest blacks, as she pushes him down onto his back and rides him to the ground.

Sand and grit and stone work their way into the open wounds on his back and he squeezes his eyes closed and savours the pain. He has never understood why this is so much more satisfying than any of the trysts he has with Hume women who almost always expect a bed.

He opens his eyes because he hates to miss a moment.

Berserker merges with euphoria and awareness is expanded to a point where he stops being him, confined and inhibited by his own fears and preconceptions, and reaches for the stars many miles above both their heads, obscured by thousands of tonnes of rock.

He digs his fingers into her hips and thrusts up to meet her. She is too far away and he does not like the dividing distance as he looks up at her face, tilted back, her wise, secretive eyes closed and the tip of her pink tongue curling to stroke her upper lip.

It is a matter of careful timing and manoeuvring to change the status quo between them, he does not want to lose his place inside her but he would not be him if he didn't at least try to take the top spot.

She bites his neck and digs her nails into his shoulders, wrapping her legs vicelike around him and stroking the back of his calves with a graceful instep. He has always thought her co-ordination was excellent.

Breathing is a trial again, and his lungs have all but collapsed, his blood burns in his veins and muscles melt. It is not time yet though, so he will endure.

Fran likes this time best.

The moments; gratifyingly rare, when he can't maintain the pretence and has no choice but to surrender all control to her.

She likes to take everything he has to give and withhold from him his satisfaction until the last moment.

She has started making that noise in the back of her throat; he would call it purring except that Fran simply does not purr.

If he wasn't so far over the edge that he was free falling through oblivion already, he might lose all semblance of control, as that ticklish little sound envelopes his senses.

He moves in for a kiss and finds himself, once more being ground against jagged ground as she wrests him down beneath her, he is beyond physical pain now so he cares not a whit.

He wants to…..he wants ….

It seems to him he may well have died. All he sees is white, trails of white that strokes against his engorged flesh like silk and cobweb.

There is the top of a suede velvet ear twitching against his lips and impulsively he kisses the black tufted tip of that ear.

Fran raises her head and looks at him, arching one eyebrow inquiringly, seemingly completely unmoved and placid, despite the sweat that sheens her forehead and the blood, his blood, that paints the tip of her nose.

' Balthier?'

' Fran.' He replies in exactly the same cool tones.

'You are sufficiently recovered to return to the rest of the party?' She questions.

He thinks about this for a moment, pondering what he might get if he were to suggest the berserker rage still lingered, but his back is a raw, weeping ache and if they tarry too much longer one of the party may come in search of them.

' Oh, yes, quite recovered.' He drawls, the sense of loss when Fran stands from him and goes in search of their clothing is almost tangible.

' Be still.' Fran instructs him as he struggles to pull on his sodden shirt over his shredded back. ' I will heal you.'

Fran has a particular way of healing him after these – moments – as she likes to see her mark on him, and so his back is an interesting mesh of fine, white scars. He has a myriad of stories to tell should anyone ever see them, none of which come close to touching the truth.

'Fran, Balthier! Are you alright? You were gone so long, we were worried!'

As he had predicted they meet with the rest of the party not far from the cave, Penelo and Vaan in the lead skid to halt when they see them.

Fran bares the mark of their recent activities in her wildly free flowing locks, and her eyes remain heavy-lidded.

He has decided not to worry about his own state of dishevelment, which he imagines is severe from the disconcerting looks the good Captain and the Princess give him as he ignores all their inquiries and pushes passed them towards the camp.

He is very definitely not in the mood for conversation.

Finding his bedroll he unfolds it on the ground, ignoring the tents in favour of lying under the now clear and cool night sky.

He deliberately and stolidly ignores everyone else as Fran demurely seats herself beside him on the ground and assures the others that he will be fine in the morning.

There is a small, hard, round stone poking out of the ground under his bedroll and irritating him.

He digs it out and ponders the smallish, but reassuringly hard, stone, in his fingers, meditatively.

He waits with the patience of a coiled serpent for his moment, feigning sleep and watching his prey through his eyelashes.


Vaan yelps, waking up the rest of the party as he jerks upright rubbing his head and staring at the small, round stone that has just struck him a glancing blow across the head.

Balthier hides his smirk behind his fist as he continues to feign the sleep of the dead.

Fran, lying half a foot away from him knows that he is awake, she frowns at him mildly.

' Wicked Hume.' She whispers on a breath.

Interestingly, weeks later when the party reach the trading camp on the Phon Coast, he spies Fran purchasing an amphora of Bacchus Wine.

He decides then, that despite certain undesirable side-affects, there are definite advantages to the occasional berserker rage.