It had been one of those days: Long, exhausting meetings at work with Balthier being yelled at by rightfully angry contractors, ten year old Snow getting into trouble at school, Chocobos breaking out of their pen, and on top of this, the water supply to their house broke down.
Returning from work at six in the evening, Balthier entered a house of chaos: Bangaa with tools dragging the house full of sand and dirt, the stuff they’d moved out of the way lying everywhere but in their designated places. Nearly eight year old Serpent protested loudly as she stomped around trying to find her favourite sweater while Balthier’s wife was trying to scrape together dinner in a waterless kitchen.
One look from Claire that said it all: You’re late, you’re always late, I always have to take care of everything. The glare Balthier shot her back told the story of ‘I know. And I kind of don’t care.’
Four months ago he’d gone to Balfonheim to visit an old friend, she who used to be his best friend in the world, a long-legged Viera whose relationship with he’d d failed to keep platonic - one mistake in a long row of many made with her. Seeing her sitting by that table in the Whitecap had him exhale. With Fran, there was only as much work, as many challenges, as they decided taking on together. With Claire, there was always an inevitable stream of them, dropping into his lap one after the other, an endless track of hurdles.
Balthier put his bag down. “Did you talk to Snow yet?”
Her glare said ‘that’s your job’.
The incident at school was not his son’s fault. It was never his son’s fault - it was the teachers, taunting him and provoking him into doing things they knew he couldn’t do. “They know I don’t read out loud,” he yelled, his knuckles white, blond hair that should have been washed two days ago (and cut about ten times that time) covering almost all of the top half of his reddened face. Balthier kicked a pair of rolled up trousers across the room to join the pile of dirty shirts. “They only ask you because they know you can do it if you just put some effort into it,” he growled, strangling a yawn. “What happened to our agreement of practicing in your room? What happened to our agreement of tidying your room?”
He looked miserable, his son, and on certain days, Balthier thought of him as just that. Balthier’s height, Claire’s hair, but that attitude - he didn’t know which of them were to blame for it. He stared at the mess on the floor. At some point in his life he had learned that in Archadian prisons, you only get to keep two sets of clothes.
“Next time you at least try.”
“You only want me to look bad!” Snow screamed. “You hate me!”
“You will try,” Balthier said, digging his eyes into the boy. “And clean up this room. You’re upsetting your mother.”
Had he waited a few more seconds, he was sure the boy would tear up, but tears would resolve nothing. Balthier was not about to be manipulated like he had so many times before. The routine was for Claire to comfort him at his bedside until he complied, and then they would shake hands like men.
As he head down the stairs to the kitchen, Serpent bumped him intentionally in the side as she ran past him. “Excuse me?” Balthier said, turning to see her tiny feet shuffle up the stairs. “You promised you’d fix the fence,” she yelled. “Balder ran all the way to the lake! He could have been eaten!”
Chocobos are Wyrm’s favourite meal , Balthier thought, continuing down the stairs.
The repairmen finally gone and the house still a mess, Balthier made the mistake of sitting down by the desk in his office to look over the amount of work waiting to be done for tomorrow morning. Claire closed the door behind her, then leaned gently against the wall, arms slowly crossing, her lips expressing a million things of which Balthier was interested in learning none.
“There is sand,” she said, “all over the livingroom floor.”
“So I’ve noticed,” Balthier said flatly. “I will get to it in a second, if you will just --”
“-- just what,” she snarled, “ask you to do something I know you’ll forget if I don’t sit on you?”
“I’d like it if you sat on me for a change,” Balthier said, realising a second too late the gravity of his mistake. The next moment he was showered with words sharpened to kill, cutting him in all the right places, others jamming into the wounds to poison him further.
“If you think me so useless,” Balthier said harshly, standing by his desk with his palms planted on its wooden surface, “then why don’t you find a man you see fit? A rich Archadian, perhaps, with a fresh pot of gil? One that is still intact for not being sacrificed to make a bride’s parents happy?”
“It’s not the gil, Balthier,” Claire shouted, “it’s your time!”
“Remember your own words next time you whine over having to pick the cheaper curtains,” Balthier replied sourly.
That look - clearly her resentment had reached new levels. For moments it poured over him, eating at his bones, while he started itching with anger for Fran, having convinced him he needed to go home to his family.
“Claire,” he said, “this is pointless. Maybe we should think about our options.”
Claire’s mouth dropped slightly open, which surprised him. Previous times when he’d suggested divorce, Claire had supported the idea, stating her excitement over being done with him and his stupidity. This time, there was no clamour to freedom. Instead, she turned to look out his window.
“I’m pregnant,” she said, the air escaping her lungs. “Again.”
These words meant nothing to Balthier. His feelings had been turned off for the stabbing. Slowly he managed to reach out an invisible hand for the switch, turning it to load them back in.
When he returned from his visit to Fran, either it was from love or guilt, he had made an effort. He’d neglected his work enough to have time to court Claire, and for a few weeks, things had been good. Good enough for his swimmers to -
“Don’t,” Claire said, “don’t make fertility jokes.”
For a long time, Balthier looked at his wife. Then he sighed.
“The board has me under their foot these days. I could ditch a couple of projects, but it will mean less income. Would you please look over the gil count? If we can manage, I can cut some work.”
Claire shifted. “Sure. The water repair won’t be cheap, but our buffer can handle it. We can shelf the plans for the second porch, and put that into maintaining the roof. The child won’t be much added cost, I kept most of the things Serpent used when she was little.”
“Alright.” Balthier gathered the paper in front of him into a stack, then paused. “...how far?”
Balthier snickered. “I’m not making jokes.”
Claire shuffled the rug with her foot. There was a small smile, and in that moment, Balthier loved her violently.
“Are you doing well?” he asked.
She shrugged, putting her hand to her waist. “Eh. It’s not nearly as bad as the first time.”
Balthier remembered Claire dragging herself out to their Rabanastre apartment porch at ten in the evening for air and food.
He cleared his throat. “I know you don’t like it when I credit you for being a trooper, because it sounds like I’m supporting the idea that it’s your job.”
Claire smiled. “Do you want some cake?”
“Let me take care of the sand first.”
The papers on his desk would have to wait until midnight.