Sometimes decisions are made, and sometimes decisions make you. Assumes knowledge of Balthier's backstory.
The voice came from a ledge to his left, the voice drawling low and amused.
"Beg pardon?" Fframran asked warily. He didn't know how well he was known in Old Archades, but in any case no one should know his face - habitual wear of Judge armor helped with that. And he was dressed inconspicuously enough at the moment, he thought.
A barking laugh made Fframran wince as the man hopped down from his ledge.
"You're as obvious as a sore thumb, boy, even before you opened your mouth. Much too clean and pretty for these parts."
Fframran frowned, and the man grinned triumphantly at the confirmation.
"So, master, what are you after? I can point you at whatever you need, for a price. The name's Jules, and I'm the best broker of information in Archades." He extended a hand. Fframran just looked at it warily.
"The only thing I need from you is discretion. No one should know you saw me here."
Jules' grin didn't fade. "Discretion, aye. That can be bought. Special discount price - ten thousand gil, if you tell me what an obvious gentry like yourself is doing wandering the old city if he has no need of its services."
Fframran was silent a few moments until it became clear the man was serious. Then he sighed, looked around for observers, and slid some coin into his hand and offered, "I suppose I just wanted to get away."
Jules barked his laugh again as he pocketed Fframran's coin. "Right then. Pleasure doing business with you, master. Rest assured, my lips are sealed." He began to walk away. Then he paused. "One piece of advice. A bonus, y'might say." His face turned serious. "The old city ain't 'away.' It's just a different flavor of the same thing." Finally, he sketched a salute and walked away.
The next time Fframran went down to the old city, he was sweaty and mussed from a mission and frustrated beyond belief from an argument with his father that went nowhere. He'd stripped off his armor and stormed out without washing up, and no one gave him a second look when he slumped against a crumbling wall and dropped his head into his hands.
At least until Jules showed up, his voice in Fframran's ear before he even noticed he was there. That said something worrying about his state of mind.
"Master Fframran! A much more valiant effort this time. Really getting into the spirit of things, I see."
Fframran raised his head enough to glare at Jules over his hands. "I don't recall telling you my name."
"Not many do," Jules said lightly. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me."
Fframran sighed, unfolded himself and stood, leaning against the wall to look the man in the eye. "I suppose you've come to extort more gil from me, then."
"Not at all! Now that I know who you are, you're much more valuable to me as a source of /information/. I hear your lord father has several interesting projects knocking about."
Fframran snorted. "Interesting. More like /insane/. The man is well on his way to taking complete leave of his senses." Jules raised an eyebrow, and Fframran paused. "That's not exactly a secret, you know."
"There are many not-secrets which nevertheless are not spread very far, and are worth great amounts to some," Jules said sagely. "There'd be compensation, of course. Do you have any better idea what you're wanting, this time?"
A strange feeling welled in Fframran's chest. "I want out," he said suddenly, without a conscious decision. "Away. Somewhere with no ties or responsibilities. Where I'm free."
"...Become some kind of glorious vagabond, a hunter, a sky pirate, able to go where you please, every child's dream?" Jules asked, amused.
"Something like that," Fframran answered flatly, ignoring the streetear's sarcasm.
"Right. The Bunansa son wants out. Tricky, but I'll see what opportunities I can uncover in that direction." At Fframran's skeptical look, he continued, "What? I'll look into it. You have my word."
After a pause in which Fframran wondered exactly how much that was worth, Jules added, "In the meantime, I accept payment in advance."
Fframran grunted and leaned away from the wall. "I'll see what I can get for you. But I've had enough for today."
As he walked away, Jules tipped his hat. "I'll look forward to it."
Fframran really had no intention of following through on the deal, if one could even call it that. And yet somehow, over the next few weeks, he found himself listening to people talk more intently, cataloguing bits of information that might be worth retelling. It gave his regular interactions with the noble class a sense of purpose, and prevented despair at their vapidity from settling in too quickly.
It wasn't until he found himself staring at his wardrobe and wondering if it would be possible to covertly and convincingly rub dirt into some of his clothes that he realized he was actually going to do it.
Some bitter part of him wondered what in the world he thought he was going to get from passing gossip to an Archadian man of the street. But then he had an idea, and he pushed that thought away.
Looking through his clothes, he picked a few articles out. Bright cloth, embroidery, beads and buttons. Things he wore rarely, even by themselves. All together they were gaudy in the extreme. He pulled open a drawer, and put his jewelry on. All of it that he owned. Then he looked in his mirror.
He felt ridiculous. He looked like an ardent trying for class much too hard, and missing by a mile. But he did not look remotely like a Judge slumming.
He grinned, and decided he could pull it off.
When he tracked Jules down, the man looked at him and did a double take before recognition prompted a real laugh.
"Trying for flamboyant street performer this time, are we?"
"I was thinking 'glorious vagabond,' actually," Fframran offered mildly. "I have information for you." He was drawing curious looks, certainly. He'd be remembered. But for his outfit and his swagger, not for his face. Misdirection could serve him where conformity could not.
"I'm sure you do," Jules said, sounding insufferable as always. He gestured for Fframran to follow him to an alcove.
Fframran talked for a long time, it seemed. He recited many things - gossip from the wives of the gentry, complaints of the engineers, decisions of the senate and who agreed with them. If Jules knew any of it, or found it too trivial, he gave no sign. Occasionally he'd interrupt to ask for more information, but he did this with no patter that Fframran could discern.
Finally Fframran could think of no more to say. "Do you have anything for me?" he asked.
"Other than my continued discretion? No," Jules said guardedly. "I have a few leads, but I need to follow up." Fframran's stomach sunk slightly. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, really.
"Keep an ear out for more news, and come back in a few weeks."
The disappointment was real, but somehow it only took the edge off his excitement. It was ridiculous, what he was doing. But at least he was doing /something/.
So he tried to talk again to the people he had before, to see how things were going. They were often flattered by his interest, and it made him smile to himself.
And he made adjustments to his costume. A little less clashing cloth, a few more trinkets of jewelry.
Weeks later, when he next was able to get away, he descended again to the old city. Jules greeted his coming like he was expected.
Fframran related his updates efficiently, then looked expectantly at the streetear.
Jules smiled, and with no segue stated, "I hear there's an experimental airship being rejected for being too expensive."
Fframran's irritation rose. "Yes. I told you that. Two weeks ago. The prototype model's being scrapped next week."
Jules nodded. "So my sources say." He glanced around, then looked sidelong at Fframran. "I propose you steal it."
"Steal...?" Fframran blinked. "Oh, brilliant idea. That's my compensation? Exactly how much investigation did that require?"
"Exactly as much as was needed to meet your request." Fframran wanted to hit Jules and wipe that superior smirk off his face, but at the same time... it was an idea/, and the seeds of ten different plans to pull if off were dancing in his head. He couldn't use /too many of his connections - it had to seem like an outside theft, but - his heart fluttered at the idea that he could /do it/. Jules just smirked wider, as if the conflict was clear on his face.
"It's too bad you'll be gone, though. You've been an excellent source, Master Fframran."
"Balthier," he said suddenly, and realized that he was committed. "The sky pirate Balthier."