Today is Balthier's fifty-fifth birthday. He wakes alone.
He goes to Fran's blankets. He wears richly tailored pyjamas, if faded. His knee pokes through a frayed patch as he bends to touch Fran's pillow, which still shows the curve from her head.
Mist rises at his touch. Puzzled, he says her name.
Balthier wanders their apartment. His puzzled expression does not fade. The furnishing sparse, there are several vases filled with ferns, and Balthier's passing makes them shiver.
'I feel like more of a ghost than you do. It's the ghosts who linger. Ah, well, on with it, eh?'
He wakes alone.
Outside the bathroom, Balthier falls, gasping. He pulls a handkerchief from his pyjama sleeve, and mops his brow. His free hand claws at his stomach.
After his shower, he stands naked at the basin, and unfolds a cutthroat razor taken from behind the mirror. He looks at the blade, then his reflection. He puts the blade against the glass, listening to the ratatat as his hand shakes. He folds the cutthroat away without shaving.
In his bedroom, he starts dressing. Stops. He shakes his head. He towels himself dry, then tries dressing again. His clothes are cut from the same pattern as those worn fifteen years ago.
'What better getup to suit a skypirate without a sky, than a style as outdated as the profession? Ha. What do you think Cid would've felt about that, eh? Take the Mist's retaliation as personally as Ffamran's failure? Can you see it, the good Doctor, challenging nature itself as a postscript to his daring deconstruction of deity!'
Balthier laughs. The bathroom comes alive with echoes. Naked and wet, Balthier holds a cutthroat against a month-thick beard.
Gleeful, he calls, 'Fran, did you hear me laugh at nothing—?'
The scarf refuses to sit in a flattering manner, or perhaps Balthier's face no longer flatters the style.
Fran watches as he pulls silk from his throat. A strange thing, style: a noose, or key to open another's expectation. They once found freedom in their constancy, owned their clothes, made for their roles. Recognised. Renowned.
In the early days of the mist death, Balfonheim's children ran to them, the skypirate pair, begging to be taken to see the sky. Fran's hurt eased only because the children stopped asking and started forgetting, their horizons now firmly collared by a city's bounds. They used to gift the urchins with magicite instead of coin, the stones worth a gil or two and worthless to skypirates, so common. Now seaglass and shells prove prettier trinkets than dead grey stones.
Balthier unlaces his collar, looking less like he's trying to seem a tidy young man, when he is neither tidy nor young and sometimes doubts his manhood. He runs his fingers through his hair and stares at the strands, grey as dead magicite.
Fran curls his hand between hers, kisses his knuckles, says, 'You look fine enough without it,' and he shivers, does not hear.
Continue to Chapter 4 →
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