A/N: I'm not sure whether to leave this story here or whether it needs another chapter. Feedback would be much appreciated, as usual :)

18. Embrace

Even though her hair was soft and tangle-free, she continued to brush it absent-mindedly while her mind wandered in circles. The past couple of days had been a bit of a roller coaster, all starting with her losing her temper in the Sandsea. Before then, she'd known her mind; she couldn't possibly have Balthier, therefore she couldn't possibly want him. Now her mind was in turmoil, playing out a wide variety of scenarios, ranging from fairly improbable to completely impossible, like her meeting a wizard that could turn her into a hume, meaning she and Balthier could live happily ever after. She shook the thought from her head, only for another, almost equally as impossible one to spring up.

Because now she was so unsure. Now she knew that she wanted nothing more than to spend the little time they had together as the only girl he'd wake up to in the mornings, the one he'd dream about and cherish until the end. She knew that she shouldn't want him, and she knew that being with him would cause inevitable heartbreak, but did that mean she couldn't be with him at all?

While she was mulling this over, the door opened. She glanced in the mirror to see it was Balthier. His eyes were blood-shot, and he looked an unhealthy grey colour. Then she hastily returned to brushing her hair.

"You have awoken," she stated simply. Why was it so hard to talk to him all of a sudden?

"Apparently so," he answered, his tone weary. "I would rather have preferred it had I not. My head is not treating me kindly."

"It was not wise of you to drink so heavily so early," she pointed out, still pulling the brush through her hair.

Balthier came up behind her and gently grabbed her wrist. "Stop doing that, else you'll pull it all out," he said calmly.

She gazed at his reflection in the mirror again. Even though he looked ill and worn-out, the sight of him still made her heart skip a beat. There was something about his tousled hair and the bleary look in his eyes that made him even more handsome than normal. He carefully took the hairbrush from her hand and set it down on the dressing table, before placing his hands on her shoulders. For a moment they just gazed at each other's reflections.

"We have much to discuss," Fran announced.

He seemed to freeze for a second, his fingers going rigid against her soft skin.

"Yes… I suppose we do," he finally answered, quickly removing his hands from her shoulders.

"You remember what it was you said before passing out on me?"

He sighed, bringing up a hand to rub his temples. "I remember few of the finer details, but I believe I can recall overall picture," he answered. Then he laughed. "Quite a mess I've got myself into here, isn't it?"

"Would you care to clarify how much of it was meant?"

He dropped his hand to his side again with another sigh. "You know I meant every word," he said softly, gazing at the floor.

It felt like she was so light she could fly. Her heart rate soared, but she could barely feel it as a smile crept onto her face. It suddenly felt as if the world was the most wonderful place to be.

And now, she realised what she wanted to happen next, and that nothing in the world, not even the thought of a century of heartache, was getting in her way.

She stood up and walked over to Balthier. He gave her a look that was a mixture of shock and sorrow. And then she wrapped her arms around him and embraced him.

No words were needed now. They stood with their arms around each other in complete silence while the world around them seemed to dissolve. All they could hear was each other's steady heartbeat and gentle breaths. At that moment, it felt as if nothing would ever be wrong again. Nothing else in the whole of Ivalice mattered.

They moved back slightly, their hands finding each other and twining together. They gazed at each other in a knowing disbelief, before slowly tilting their heads and moving closer, closer together, until their lips touched. It was a lot softer and more tender than their first kiss, and although it only lasted a few seconds, it left Fran feeling dizzy and weak.

"I've been waiting some time to do that," Balthier whispered, caressing her cheek.

He pressed his lips against hers again, sending her more shivers down her spine.

"So if I asked you to be my leading lady… would you accept?"

That morning, Fran would have had to consider it for a while, weighing out all the possibilities in her head, going over every last detail before coming to a decision. But now she didn't have to think about. "Of course," she answered.

Balthier's smile widened. "I'm pleased to hear it."

He kissed her again, before sliding his arms around her and tugging her close to him. She returned the gesture.

They stood in silence, locked in each other's embrace once more.