iGrab - Lab Rat X (draklor) wrote,
iGrab - Lab Rat X
draklor

My Father's Name [Balthier-centric, PG]

Title: My Father's Name
Pairing: Balthier-centric, with a few hints of anything if you tilt your head
Type: food for thought
Rating: PG


Vaan was always the last on the uptake.

"Hang on... that Dr. Cid... is your father?"

Balthier made an exasperated noise, leaning his head back and shrugging his shoulders elegantly. "Honestly, Vaan, sometimes I wonder how you make it out of bed in the morning."

"He doesn't," Penelo cut in, ignoring Vaan's wounded look. "That's what I'm here for."

"Vaan, if you are truly that thick, I see no reason to enlighten you further," Fran said with her usual aplomb, as she delicately circumnavigated a small throng of Archadian noblewomen.

"Come on, guys, gimme a break! If no one tells me these things, how am I supposed to know?"

"I figured it out all on my own," Penelo teased, her arms tucked together behind her back.

"He didn't make a secret of it, that's for sure," Ashe put in, though her mind was clearly elsewhere. The very recent confrontation with Dr. Cid had shaken her to the core.

"I suppose we shouldn't expect you to think on our terms," came the next jibe from Fran, looking for all the world like she was commenting on the lovely weather.

Behind the group of girls (and Vaan, if that counts), Balthier and Basch strode together, keeping step. The pirate looked at ease, hips swinging, thumbs hooked at the loop of his belts.

"You didn't tell him?" Basch said in an undertone, raising a questioning eyebrow.

"Oh, I figured someone would, along the way," he murmured lightly. "It's not my duty to fill in the gaps of his sadly lacking knowledge." He made a gesture with his ringed hand, and it was easy to see that the girls were making a fine story of it, keeping Balthier firmly in place as Vaan's idealistic hero of a sky pirate. "And what do you know? I was right."

{ + }

"Balthier? I have a question for you."

He didn't stop in his long-legged stride, eyes still peeling the horizon for Coeurls. He was, however, rather surprised at the sudden question. As usual, they'd divided into two scouting teams, and while Penelo was usually off with Vaan in the other team, she'd recently learned to use a gun, and Balthier was giving her tips. "What is it?"

"Were you born in Archades?"

He cocked the gun and shot it off, and something far in the distance let out a cry. "I'm sorry, what was that?"

She ignored his flippancy and pressed on. "You sure know an awful lot about where we're going, that's all. And if I remember correctly, it was you who knew exactly where the Dusk Shard could be found." She leaned on the butt of her gun and tipped her head, smiling. "Am I right?"

"Undoubtedly." He quirked a smile at her, then looked up as Fran gave a piercing bird-call whistle from much farther ahead. "Keep going and you might even deduce something important."

"It's Draklor." She scurried to keep up with his long stride. "That's where we're going, and that's where you're from. The Strahl's a prototype, and no ordinary sky pirate would even know about something like that, let alone be able to snitch it."

"Well, hasn't it crossed your mind that I'm no ordinary sky pirate?" He'd reached where Fran had called from; but now she was nowhere to be seen again. He hoped she hadn't run into any Marlboros. They were running out of handkercheifs.

"But that's just the thing." Penelo hopped up on a ridge and shaded her eyes to look out at the horizon. "You're nothing like an ordinary sky pirate. You're nothing like an ordinary Archadian, either, if Archades is anything like Rabanastre."

"Well, for starters, it's not," Balthier said shortly, cross because Fran was missing. "They're nothing alike, so don't get any ridiculous ideas."

"But you know a lot about airships," she pressed on coyly. "And not just any airships, but military prototypes. You knew about the Dusk Shard."

He sighed. "I didn't find out about that because of where I was born, you know."

"I don't know. So tell me." She plopped down on a rock and kicked her feet. "We shouldn't wander around if Fran's missing."

"No, that's exactly a reason to wander around." He scowled, then whistled a call himself in reply, a longer pattern of notes. She'd know where to find them. "I didn't find out that nethicite was behind all of it until very recently."

"Is that so?" She had that look in her eye, that piercingly curious look. He knew she wouldn't be able to rest until she knew everything.

Balthier sighed. "My father made a trip shortly before my mother's death - before, around, during, I can't quite remember. She'd been ill for a long time, and he made trips like that often, to faraway places for business things. I hadn't the foggiest idea what they were about, only assumed that someday I'd learn."

She was hanging on his every word now; that was good, but finding Fran would be better. He kept talking while straining his eyes and ears for a sign. "I didn't cut myself off completely, you know, and the one or two contacts I kept in touch with mentioned offhand that it was something he brought back in Giruvegan that corresponded with the upswing in research and production - and the start of his madness. I was much more concerned with the timing of my mother's death, but Fran had heard the name, and her legends convinced me that the matter deserved some looking into. That's when the whispers of nethicite began."

A whistle. She was safe, and coming back this way; all they had to do was stay put. It wouldn't take long, he started to gather up the bits of tale that he'd been spinning, not sure at all what he'd said to fill up the gap. He hoped it wasn't true. "It was all just conjecture, of course, but as we started this exciting little nethicite-ridden adventure, I've come to realize that the 'Dusk Shard' my father used to babble about really did exist."

"So..." Penelo was too engrossed in the story, didn't seem to notice that he turned completely away from her at the sound of Fran's approaching light footsteps. "We're just following a memory of yours? All the way to Archades?"

"Don't be ridiculous," a voice said, and that one was Fran's, gently reprimanding. "We wouldn't be here if we weren't certain."

An hour later, as Fran loped ahead to catch back up to the other group, Penelo reached out and held Balthier back. "Balthier? Can I ask just one more question?"

"Go ahead; it's not like we don't have all day."

"Your father... what was his name?"

Did he really say that much? Well, that was unfortunate. But, he supposed it couldn't be helped. "Doctor Cid," he informed her, then left to stride on ahead. She wouldn't recognize the name, not yet, but he had a feeling it would soon be an all too familiar one for more than just himself.

{ + }

"...Lusting for ever greater power... blinded by the nethicite... is that how you see me?"

"That does sound like someone I know." He could remember the moment when he knew he'd have to tell her. He could also remember thinking that he had to plan his speech very carefully. He could not remember ever thinking about it again, until right now. He hadn't meant for the subject to come up like this.

"He was obsessed with nethicite. It was all he cared about. He'd babble nonsense, blind to all but the stone's power. He'd talk about some.. Enna... or was it Venat? ...No matter. Everything he did, he did to get closer to the nethicite, to understand it. He made airships, weapons..." He hadn't wanted to talk about it, but he supposed she had a right to know. "...He even made me a judge."

"You were a... judge?"

He could hear the mixed surprise and trepidation in her voice. It was what he expected, after all. Lady Ashe would not willingly change her opinion of the enemy. "Part of a past I'd rather forget. It didn't last long. I ran. I left the judges... and him.

"Cidolphus Demen Bunansa." He would never forget the name as long as he lived. "Draklor Laboratories' very own Doctor Cid." Balthier tucked his thumbs in his belt loops, watched the waves lapping at the perfect white sand. "That's when he lost his heart to nethicite. Lost himself." It was easier, now. He cared about the princess; they were both part of a team. And if there was anything he believed in, it was not seeing nethicite misused again. "And, I suppose, that's when I lost my father."

He heard her short, sad intake of breath, and knew she'd never be able to see him the same way again. But he supposed that was none of his concern. He turned, a very serious expression on his face, to look her in the eye. "Don't follow in his footsteps."

Her eyes asked for more. He didn't want to go on, but if he didn't tell her, she'd be getting all sorts of ridiculous ideas. "I ran away. I couldn't stand seeing him like that; a slave to the stone. So I ran. Free at last." It wasn't entirely accurate, but it made a sound story. Good for upholding the bottom-line moral. And that last bit was true enough.

"Funny that I went for the Dusk Shard. How could I have known that it was nethicite? And then, of course, I met you." He did not smirk. He wasn't flirting; not this time. "All that running, and I got nowhere."

Here he was, back where it all started - or it would be, soon. He felt like a puzzle, with only a few tiny pieces yet missing, and they were waiting right up ahead.

"It's time to end this."

{ + }

"You fly well," Basch said, just as Balthier was about to continue on to his own room. Fran was at the helm now, and he was off to get some well-deserved shut-eye.

But apparently not, he mused, as the ex-captain had yet to even remove his gauntlets, and they'd been flying all day. Balthier leaned in the doorway, his hands grasping the top of the doorframe, showing off his figure. "I can't say I don't appreciate the compliment, but I do wonder at its origin. Do you mean to say that most don't? That's not the consensus, from the amount I pay in repairs each month."

"Maybe the times have changed," Basch murmured, his voice a rumble. "But this is... a very smooth ride."

"More than you expected, then?" The pirate sauntered in, took a seat across from Basch, so close that their knees bumped together.

"Yes." Only now, did he start to loosen his armor. It didn't escape Balthier's notice that his fingers were slow on the buckles, hesitating, as if he were only doing it because he felt he had to.

"Captain, are you by any chance afraid of flying?"

"Of course not." Basch's fingers slipped on the last buckle of his gauntlet, and his lips creased in a frown.

"Let me get that." Balthier leaned closer than necessary, rainbow-ringed fingers working easily to slide the leather apart. "Well, if you were, I'll have you know that the Strahl is an Archadian prototype. Too expensive to build; would have been destroyed if I hadn't valiantly swooped in for the rescue. I've reworked her to fit my needs as the years passed. She's all stealth and speed and comfort."

A slow grin worked over Basch's face, and he did not comment when Balthier leaned down to remove his boots.

"My father was the one who designed it, so I didn't feel quite so guilty." With his forehead pressed to Basch's knee, there was no way he could see the look of surprise that flitted across the pirate's face at his own flippant admission.

"Your father. He was an engineer?" Basch had his head tilted back, and he was shrugging out of his jacket.

"The very best. Pet of the Empire, and I was his perfect handpuppet, down to the last detail." Balthier straightened up with a catlike grin. "Except, of course, the bit where I actually wanted to be my own person."

Basch chuckled, and slid his ridiculous multicolored shoulder pad thing off of said shoulders. "And so you ran?"

"Certainly! Wouldn't you?"

"Rather, that I did." His eyes were steady and serious now. Balthier had a sudden, fleeting wonder - would he ever know all there is to know about Basch fon Ronsenburg? Not likely. "Would you have taken it anyway, had you the chance?"

"What?" He'd gotten distracted.

"The ship." Basch was nothing if not patient. Balthier wasn't quite used to it. "If you hadn't been Doctor Cid's son."

"Of course." So he knew the name. Balthier wasn't sure if he was disappointed. "It just wouldn't have been so easy."

It wasn't until the next morning, when they docked at Bhujerba, that the implications of their conversation finally reached his brain. "You're Archadian?" That much should have been obvious, but he hadn't been thinking about it in simple country versus country like that, yesterday.

"By blood, yes." Balthier had his back turned, and that controlled, careful atmosphere around him that meant he was saying something very important, but wanted to make it sound very unimportant. Basch hadn't known what it looked like previously, but he had no problem identifying it now. "But no longer. A sky pirate has no history."

The captain clapped a hand on his shoulder, jarring his stiff posture and making him look around in surprise. "We can't escape our histories," he said, in that gruff, direct way of his. "But that doesn't mean we cannot look to the future."

Basch moved on, and Balthier's expression behind his back was pained and vunerable. They didn't speak of it again for a long time.

{ + }

She sat on the hull of the Strahl where it lay silent among the rocks, damaged for the umpteenth time from Balthier's rough flying. Her back was straight as a rod, limbs rigid, and she looked out at the setting sun like it was her entire purpose in life to.

Balthier? There was no Balthier. Not even the tiniest blip on the lowest radar.

She'd been like this for a full three days now. It was the longest they'd gone without talking, in the time they'd known each other - though Fran had surely done this before. Her silence was the silence of the utterly uninterested, going about her business as if Balthier was not, had never been, and would never be a part of her life.

But it was his ship he was repairing, his tools she was handling.

He'd thought himself in circles. Guilt warred with pride, ricocheting off a thousand other complicated emotions that he didn't have the patience to name. He didn't like it.

It had taken him all week to come to a realization that should have occurred to him months ago, but perhaps he was finally ready to face it.

He needed Fran. She was an indispensable part of his life, and not just as an airship mechanic. And she needed him, too, he had no doubt of that. That was what her silence said - I'm not going anywhere.

To put it short - he'd been a giant prat. He'd taken her for granted, perhaps since the day he'd met her. He needed to make it up to her somehow, now, and three days passed in a silence that was apathetic on one end, and taut with guilt on the other.

Night fell. Balthier's back was aching with tension, and he flitted from one assembly to another, clanking tubes of metal aimlessly in the growing darkness. He tried to figure out what to say.

He tried to sit next to her, for about ten minutes. But he couldn't bring himself to look her in the face. Then he tried pacing, but the movement just made him more nervous, until he stubbed his toe on an open toolbox and swore. Finally, he lay down behind her, aching back stretched over the curve of the hull.

"...I was born in Archades." The words seemed to come out of nowhere, and it was with a slight sense of bewilderment that Balthier realized he was the one speaking. "That's why I never go there. Awful place."

It was impossible to tell if Fran was listening. Well, she wasn't not listening, and he might as well have been talking to the air.

"...It's very... vertical." He paused, still watching the back of her head intently for a reaction. "All stairs and air cars, built on itself over and over again. Pretty, if you like that sort of thing."

No, she definitely wasn't listening. He could tell. The thought relaxed him, and his eyes slid closed. He spoke more freely now. "The city itself is nice to look at, but the worst part of it - " he stopped, paused for a long moment, collected his thoughts. He'd never spoken about this before, never out loud.

"The city of Archades is built on the backs of the destitute, so the well off may live in splendor - but never in trust, for to trust is to fall. No one says what they mean, everyone has a hidden agenda - not like pirates. Pirates are simple. In Archades your business is everyone's business, and your business is showcased, critiqued, compared to the strangling network of your lineage, and judged. Nothing is as it seems, and everyone's catty, deceitful wiles are played out under stiff rules of etiquette, empty words, empty wine and lace and perfume."

He went quiet again. He'd forgotten that Fran was there at all, he only saw the stars.

"My dad... was different. He was always a little... the word they used was 'eccentric', which of course meant that he had enough money and status that he could act however he wanted and no one would care. He was... a scientist. His laboratory was the biggest in Archades, right in Tsenoble proper, and he took his orders straight from House Solidor.

"I was the youngest of three boys. I'm sure you know how these things go. My elder brother - well, I didn't see much of him, he went off to fight in the army and died a hero's death. The middle of us got married to someone of status in Bhujerba - I suppose he's still there, though his wedding was the last I saw him. And I... well.

"I was the favorite, of course."

Balthier quirked a small smile, lost now in his memories. "He taught me everything I know about airships. I was quick to learn - I wanted to please him, and he wanted to teach me. Other fathers were planning their sons' careers while they were still in the cradle; my father told me I could take up whatever profession I so pleased, and to hell with the lot of them. I remember those exact words; I was ten years old, and I laughed and told him I'd grow up to be a scientist, just like him.

"...I was fifteen when everything changed.

"My mother had died recently, and the whole house seemed empty, dark. It was a terrible time to lose a parent, and I couldn't concentrate on my work. I took to wandering around the house barefoot, trying to see how quiet I could be - perhaps if I was as quiet as a ghost, I'd become a ghost myself, or something along those lines. I'd drift past the door of my father's study to test myself, for he always had the ears of a cat when it came to me.

"He was talking to someone. I froze, wondering who was with him, but when he kept on going, leaving spaces in between lengthy sentences, I came to the realization that... there was no one there. He was talking to himself.

Balthier went quiet again, for a long time. "...Perhaps my mother's death - " he blinked, about to continue, then let a long breath out as if he'd lost the will to go on. "...Who knows why it happened. But something happened. Lost some screws up there. Became a pawn of his mind, and I, in turn, a pawn to him.

"He made me become a judge. To keep me out of his workroom, where I'd never been barred from in my life - and to control me. Because suddenly it was no longer all right for me to be a scientist, suddenly I had to do something with my life. Something important. And all the while, he went banging away in his workroom, shut up tight on projects that he wouldn't talk to anyone about.

"I left... because I couldn't stand it anymore. I left... and he didn't even notice I was gone."

Balthier sat up, suddenly, then pushed to his feet and started pacing the length of the hull. "Everyone else was in a frenzy over it, of course, and everyone seemed to have their own opinion on the matter - truly ridiculous stories they concocted, mind you, and I was rumored to be sleeping with everyone from a street courtesan in Rabanastre to Vayne Solidor himself." He chuckled. "All wrong, of course. But my father never noticed." He stopped at the prow, folded his arms and stared out over the desert. "Last year, he sent me a bill. For 'the unnamed prototype' taken from his loading docks." A derisive snort, and he tossed his head slightly, making his earrings clink. "I tore it up and he hasn't said a word."

There was a long silence, as Balthier held his hands out and looked at them. Neatly manicured, of course, and clean, even after a week and a half of maintenance - except for one nail, where a faulty glossair ring had chipped the corner off several days ago. Bright circles on his fingers and wrists, signifying his preferences to anyone in Balfonheim. Expensive lace cuffs, imported from Rozzaria.

"A simple 'I'm sorry' would have sufficed," a voice said, cutting suddenly and violently through his reverie. Fran was looking at him, her torso twisted and tools loose in her hands. Despite the flippant nature of her words, in her eyes there was a steadying calmness - somewhere between understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness.

He smiled a shaky smile, not knowing just how much honest appreciation reached his eyes. "You know I never do things by halves."

{ + }

"To Giruvegan," she whispered, and though it was barely a sound at all, he heard it even over the crackling of the fire and Vaan and Penelo's mindless chatter in the background. They were seated a good distance from camp, and the warmth of the Viera's body was much closer and more important than the quavering heat from the fire.

"To Giruvegan," he echoed, the words sounding hollow even to his own ears.

"Are you nervous?" she asked, lips barely moving, everything else still and quiet.

"Perhaps." He knew better than to lie; she could smell it on him, and besides, he had no reason to. He had nothing to hide from Fran.

"You will know the truth, and there will be an end. Perhaps it will not be the end you wished, or the truth you wanted, but there will at least be closure."

"I know." He lay back, stretching out his arms and legs and looking up at the stars. "I'm almost done running."

"You were done running the second you set foot back in Archades," she murmured, turning to shift herself into his vision, her torso propped on long delicate arms. Delicate arms that could break him, he reminded himself, but the thought made him smile.

"Ah, I'm still running. I've merely changed the direction from 'from' to 'to'."

She chuckled softly, and shifted again to lie down beside him. "What will you do when you are done running?"

"Hmm." He lifted a hand, the ringed one, and spread it out against the sky. "You know, I've been giving it a lot of thought lately."

"And?"

"I think I'll fly."
Tags: balthier, fanfiction
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