Tokens from the Past
Disclaimer: I do not own FFXII or any of the non-original characters within.
The people lined against the shore, bent from a potent combination of age and strong winds. They centered around the open cypress box, the man who rested in it, dressed in a best suit easily fifty years old and too big by Balthier's practiced eye, and gifts from old friends.
Balthier did not belong here, at an old sea-pirate's funeral. Fran did not explain, why she brought her to this low-town port, in a city reduced to a mere fishing village. His nose wrinkled slightly as the waves sloshed against his second-best boots. Airships were invested precisely to keep one's shoes dry, after all.
He'd never once met the man being mourned, here where the rain met gray sky and wet sea. He never even knew those who gathered round, the remnants of the underworld that chose to fade away, instead of surrendering gracefully to inevitable progress. No one asked to be introduced to Balthier. No one said anything to him, but they watched him. Watery eyes, half blind from glaucoma or cataracts followed him around the funeral. He stood, unperturbed, the way he used to watch his father right before he ran away. He had nothing to say.
He noticed though, that if he were treated as an intruder a stranger, a whippersnapper from the new generation, they shook Fran's hand, and a few of them, an old woman who had apparently retired wealthy embraced her. "Nice to see you again"
Fran took her hand and kissed her cheek. "You as well, Hilda"
The mourners all dropped tokens, an antique brooch, a sea blue cap, a chipped drinking glass, other trinkets of life at sea, into the dead man's coffin. Fran too brought a remembrance, though Balthier wondered how she could keep it hidden from him. It was a photo, taken through smoked crystal, an old technique. Fran was Fran and holding a man who looked to be Balthier's age, or a little older, who wore his mustache in a style popular forty years ago. A previous lover. He wore the dead man's suit, tailored to fit across broad shoulders.
"Humes change fast." She said in way of explanation, as she tucked the photo into the old man's hands. "Too fast, sometimes"
"Viera do not change at all." Hilda patted her hand on Fran's shoulder. "You are as fresh and lovely as you were in our day"
"All things change"
Hilda sent a very pointed look at Balthier. "Not everything, dear. It seems there are habits one cannot bear to break"
Was it his imagination that Fran flinched for a half a second? "It is how it is. I cannot give that up." She did not hold out her hand, or ask for reassurance, but Balthier wanted to be close to her anyway, as close as he could be without touching her.
"Have you forgotten our Maat?"
"Never." Fran chose not to say more. She pulled one more token, a dried white carnation and placed it on top of the photo.
The box set to sea, with the crowd of gnarled pirates bidding their own private farewells. Balthier looked upon them all, and upon Fran, as full of grief as any of the codgers, but composed as a Viera would be. The coffin bobbed away upon the waves towards the horizon, into the mist, Ridorana perhaps, or even further south to Paradise.
It occurred to Balthier, watching the people watching the floating casket in the rain, that Fran could be as much a relic of this unknown man, this Maat as any of the physical objects setting to sea with him. She remained touched by time only behind the eyes, while the others would fall soon to the twilight and illness of old age. He too, could be a token, the man by her side, her lover, no more and no less than the dead man had been so long ago.
The funeral broke, not all at once, but in pieces of two and three away from the port. Some to go home, some to go to a tavern to banish to oblivion the memories of the day. Balthier and Fran headed back to the Strahl, to go somewhere, back to Dalmasca or Archadia, Balthier did not care.
Only in the privacy of the ship did they touch, his arms around her shoulders, as she sat to set their navigation path. One of her hands moved up to grasp his wrist lightly between her nails and fingertips. Hilda and the others may not know, but Fran mourned her old lover, and she would mourn him someday.
"Fran," he said idly, pulling away. "I know what will come, and I have only one favor to ask of you."
"Yes?" Had she been crying? Her voice shook slightly, though she still bore a poised posture and expression.
"Never do this for me." Now that he thought of it, Dalmasca sounded good, far from water, far from the sea. "Set course for Rabanastre."
They spent the entire flight hands entwined.