'Oh, we're a pretty, pretty pair
Yes, we are
All, all the king's horses
And all of his men
Couldn't tear us apart' - birds of a feather, the civil wars

a doubt

There's a balcony on the underside of the Strahl. When they are floating or on autopilot, Balthier usually finds himself walking there or leaning on the railing before he realizes what he's doing or where he is. Overlooking the beyond, the ground thousands of feet below them, always shatters whatever his anxiety holds, and it makes his troubles become insignificant..

Seldom does he find Fran here. She keeps herself occupied with calibrations or coops up in the engine room, tinkering with yet another piece of equipment or more wires to untangle.

He twists the rings around his fingers absently, staring into the clouds passing underneath.

He's surprised to hear the clicks of Fran's heels sound behind him, stopping just to his left. Her long fingers touch the rail, and she taps her claws.

He glances at her, and he wonders about her, too. Most of the time she's in the back of his mind or the tip of his tongue - always there and ready. He can't shake her, and he's tried to realize if he wants to shake her. To not have her so close to him. It isn't always fun with her face imprinted behind his eyes.

"You never come out here," he says. "Something on your mind?"

He knows even if there is something on her mind, it might be days before she even mentions it. Her patience is a maddening thing.

She follows his eyes to the clouds as well, and he notices the slight hesitation of her lips.

"You are young," she says. "Humes age so quickly. In a few years time, you will be ready to have a family, will you not?"

In a few years time, he'll only be twenty-four, still alive and fully incapable of finding one woman to settle down. He isn't sure if she even knows his age, but he decides to forgo asking, or telling. He isn't one for thinking too far into the future. His life might not make it very far at all. A family sounds like a daunting task, besides. And it's not like he knows her age, either.

"I don't know, Fran," he says, instead. "Are you offering to be the mother of my child?"

Fran shakes her head at his joking. "Perhaps it is too soon to ask."

This sentence wakes him up a bit. "My question? Or yours?"

She only avoids his glance, which is an unfortunately normal occurrence.

"I mean to say, Balthier, is that when you decide to retire your occupation, you will give me time to adjust."

Balthier looks at her for a while, holding back all the quips ready on his lips. He tries to find any bit of regret or sadness in her face, but is not surprised when he doesn't. She's always been wonderful at hiding emotions and things. It's a thought he'll ponder later about whether she really means all the things she's saying now. He can ask her, but he's learned that words will only confuse the air between them even more.

"What kind of leading man would I be," he says, "if I abandoned my leading lady?"

"Do not jest, Balthier," she says, and her voice is hard. "There will come a time when you will want to quit this. And I will be ready when you decide."

What broke her trust, he thinks, to make her so certain that he'll leave her?

He forces himself from asking. She can keep her secrets, if she wants. Maybe she will tell him one day. Maybe it will be on his deathbed.

"What if I'm never ready?"

"If's are fragile words," she drawls.

He weighs his options on speaking. He contemplates a few moments, then says, "Words will not sway you, hm?"

"For Humes, words do not have to mean a thing. You should know this most of all."

It's a wonder she isn't a poet or a public speaker. He can feel her words latch onto him like parasites, and they make him almost physically hurt. It should have been long enough for her to come to realize that he would never lie to her.

"I know, Fran," he says. "Actions are much more expensive than mere words."

She looks at him, and he can see her mind working. "Charm is a thief."

He smiles at that. "Good thing I decided to become a pirate, eh?"

She looks away from him again, to the faraway mountain peaks of Dalmasca. Her stance is always steady and sure, as straight as one of her arrows lingering in her quiver.

To prove to her that he will stay will last the entirety of his lifetime. When he dies, she will finally understand.

For now, he touches her back, and he says, "May I kiss you, Fran?" And he only asks because he's almost certain that there won't be a woman more fitted to be asked.

She doesn't answer him, but she doesn't have to. She'll let him kiss her, just as she has the last times, even if she doesn't participate - even if she doesn't care. It might be a while until he knows what her thoughts are on them, but right now, he'll relish her lips and her face and her hair, because it is all so much to take in.

She burns him, always, and he has yet to get used to the feeling under his skin.