Burmecia’s relief efforts were coming along smoothly. The once proud architecture was mostly laid to ruins, the rain washed away much of the debris. It was a sorrowful sight. Though, the fresh-faced Queen Garnet’s support had been invaluable. Certain key buildings and businesses had been fully restored over the course of a year, courtesy of Alexandria’s engineers.
Lindblum would have offered support, but Cid prioritised his own city first. Understandable. Brahne’s rampage had almost crippled Gaia’s technological powerhouse. The scars from her reign still showed, even a year after her death. Tantalus were also out of the question, as the troupe was currently back on tour with less kidnapping this time, hopefully.
Freya stared toward the bottom of her drink as long as she could, before the spindly waiter took the empty glass away. She nodded to him appreciatively, pulling herself back to reality. ‘The Dragon and Moon’ was awfully quiet that night. The floorboards were damp with spilled alcohol, and the barkeep looked like he had more problems than his customers. Though she couldn’t judge. She had plenty of problems herself.
As the waiter zipped past her again, she waved him over. “An ale, please. Put it on my tab.” He nodded, and headed back towards the bar. Freya leaned back in her seat, and closed her eyes. Suddenly, she was interrupted by the sound of a chair screeching across the floorboards across from her. “Can I help you?” She spoke, not bothering to open her eyes. It was probably just some drunkard looking to flirt with her. While most of Burmecia’s male populace tended to avoid it, due to her status and known relationship with Sir Fratley, it didn’t stop some people from trying.
“Not even gonna open your eyes, rat?” A familiar, deep voice spoke to her.
“Amarant. You come all the way out here for me?” She lifted her head up, surprised. There he was, with his flaming red hair. Rather wisely, he brought a cloak. A black, knee-length coat with a hood. She noticed that he’d already bought a drink for himself.
He chuckled dryly. “‘Course not. You’re nothing special. Got a job.” He took a swig of his ale.
“You mean a bounty? Go and deal with it, then.” Her mood sullied. The ape-like human had just come to gloat. Combined with the alcohol, he easily agitated her.
He paused for a moment, to think. Freya noticed the raindrops in his hair. He probably never wore the hood anyway. “Nah. Wanted to get a drink first.” He took his time to survey the tavern. He looked unimpressed. “Besides, you rats look funny when you frown.”
The Burmecian clenched her fists, “If I’m just a joke to you, then I’d rather not be near you. Leave me alone.” She growled. Though in truth, it was mostly the alcohol talking.
He laughed heartily. “If only you’d grow a backbone when it comes to that boyfriend of yours. What’s his name? Forgetful?” His words goaded her.
Her short temper erupted. She growled, and threw her fist towards his face as hard as she could, trying to purge his smug grin. Being an experienced pugilist, he saw it coming a mile off. Amarant caught her fist, and bent her arm backwards over her chair. “You need to work on your punches, rat.” He remarked, condescendingly.
She seethed with anger. “Get off me, you brute!” She tried to jerk her arm away, but his grip was too strong.
“Take it outside, Freya!” The barkeep shouted over to them both, just as the waiter delivered her ale. Amarant released her arm, and she buried herself in her glass like a wounded animal.
“I was just sayin’, you should sort things out with him.” Amarant clearly knew it was a touchy subject.
She scoffed. “You don’t know the half of it. I don’t need a womanizer’s advice, thanks.” Her words were filled with venom.
He crossed his arms. “You mean Lani?” He paused for a moment, huffing. “She was my partner. Not any more.”
Freya took several gulps of her ale, and leaned over the table. “What happened?” She questioned.
“She took a hostage. I knew it was a mistake workin’ with her. Haven’t seen her since.” Beneath the mass of hair, his eyes sparkled with a hint of curiosity. “We hadn’t met yet. How’d you know about her?”
“Zidane filled me in on what happened in Madain Sari. He mentioned that a woman was with you at the time.” She slumped into her chair. The boy never returned from the Iifa tree. Her damaged heart broke even further that day. First her lover, then one of her closest friends.
Amarant, sensing her sadness, took another swig of his drink and grumbled to himself. He leaned forwards, pressing his elbows into the table, forearms outstretched. “Still no word of him. Damn monkey, sacrificing himself for an excuse like Kuja.”
“He always had heart. Went out of his way to help people, just because he could. We can all learn a lesson from him. Even you.” She glared at him, from behind her long hair.
He snorted, amused. “Only thing he taught me was that groups can find success where one can't.”
She looked annoyed. “Zidane taught far more than that. He led a ragtag group to face the embodiment of death itself. He was a leader. He was…” Her voice lost its luster. She couldn't bring herself to describe him further. She didn't want to start crying in the middle of a pub, especially not in front of a man like Amarant Coral.
“If I didn't know any better, I’d say you loved him.” He gave her an accusatory glance.
It was her turn to snort. “Then you clearly don't understand friendship, do you? I've known him far longer than you. While I may not have always shown it, I cared about him, which is more than you can say.” taking a final gulp, she finished her third drink of the night.
“Speak for yourself. We were never friends.” He mumbled quietly.
Feeling the effects of the alcohol, she replied in a mocking tone. “Well, Reis forbid that you'd have a friend, you're the Flaming Amarant aren't you? A no-nonsense bounty hunter. No, it would be a ridiculous notion. If only you stopped acting like a conceited ass, maybe you'd have friends.”
His expression remained unchanged. “Friends are a burden. Doesn't matter how close you think you are, they just weigh you down in the long run.”
She raised an ear. “Speaking from experience?”
He folded his arms. “You’ll never know.” Finishing his drink, he adjusted his cloak and stood up. “I’m goin’. Got a bounty to hunt.” As he turned to leave, he stopped for a moment, like he remembered something. He turned back, and handed Freya a letter.
She was confused. “Are you a moogle now, Coral?”
He shook his head, but had a hint of a smirk on his face. “Letter from Dagger.” With that, he turned back and left the pub, and Freya to her thoughts.
The night advanced, and Freya had stopped drinking. Any more, and it would have cost her a fortune. She leaned over the table, head in her hands. She couldn’t get Fratley off of her mind. The hero had started to fall back in love with her. Or perhaps, he was only trying to for old time’s sakes. He wasn’t the same man she fell in love with all those years ago. It was like he was trying to fill out the role he once held, if only for her. It both flattered, and upset her. Shaking the thoughts from her mind, she recalled the letter.
Upon opening it, she was greeted with the familiar smell of Alexandrian perfume. Like Garnet had imprinted the smell on the paper, as well as a ticket of sorts.
‘ Hello Freya,
I hope this letter finds you well. I apologise for having Amarant hand it to you, but at least it gave him an excuse to come and see you. Under that gruff exterior, he cares in his own way. As you probably know, the Tantalus troupe will be holding their annual performance of ‘I Want to be Your Canary’ in Alexandria in a few days. Enclosed in this letter, is a ticket for you. It will be good to see you again.
Best wishes, Garnet’
Her handwriting surpassed Freya’s, that much was apparent. She missed last year’s performance, and felt that it was only right to see it. Zidane would have wanted her to. She sighed, and stood up from her seat. Alexandria was quite the journey.