"Dinner for Two"
After the events on floor 18, Bell takes Lili out to a nice dinner. Spoilers for the end of the anime. A short BellxLili fic.
(Sorry about the cover image. I can't draw well.)
Eina Tulle, filling in for the exchange girl today, was taken aback. A giant, blue crystal was weighing down the counter in front of her, and it was starting to creak. Bell Cranel laughed a little nervous laugh. The crystal was so large that he couldn't see her face behind it, but he could imagine how this seemed.
A day had passed since Bell and all the other adventurers had taken down a level five floor boss, "Black Goliath," on Floor 18 of the Orario dungeon. After a rest, they had made the long trek back to the surface.
"Ah, don't get the wrong idea!" Bell tilted his head toward Liliruca Arde, standing behind him. She looked relieved to finally have the giant, glowing rock out of her sack. She couldn't even zip it closed with that stone in there. "It's not like when I killed the Minotaur. I worked together with a lot of people to defeat it, so we're splitting the reward between ten Familias."
"Even so, this is worth a fortune," Eina's eyes darted from the stone to Bell and back. Though he damaged it to destroy the Goliath, blue light pulsed inside. The crystal was still healthy. Bell, however, was bruised, charred, cut, and generally beat up. Eina clenched her fists. "Oh, Bell! You always do this! I know you're growing fast, but if you keep pushing yourself like this, you'll-"
"Eina, please don't cry again," Bell leaned around the stone between them and put his hand on her shoulder. "You don't have to worry about me. After all, I've got a party now. See?"
Lili grinned and gave a thumbs up.
"No, you're right," Eina pulled out a piece of paper and wiped her eyes. "What matters is that you're alive. Let's see, Bell, split ten ways even, your share should come to..."
"FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND VALIS!?"
Welf Crozzo couldn't believe his eyes. Passers-by stopped and stared as Bell and Lili showed him their haul. Welf's contract was finally paying off! He knew his share of the gold would be less than Bell's as it would be split among the participating members of Hephaestus Familia, but a glimpse at Lili's sack of cash was enough to send him on wild day-dreams of fame and fortune.
"Pbbt! This is Bell's reward, not yours," Lili stuck her tongue out and zipped her sack up. She knew it wasn't hers, either, and any funds distributed to Soma Familia would never make it down to her. She also lost all of the things the party had taken on their way down and played a side role in the fight. There was no way she could ask for half of Bell's share this time. Even thirty percent would be pushing it.
"Ah, Welf! I almost forgot: wasn't there some skill or power you were trying to get?" Bell beamed.
"That's right. I went to see Hephaestus this morning, and my Blacksmithing rank went up. Welf Crozzo, blacksmith extraordinaire, has finally joined the big leagues!"
Bell and Welf shook hands, and Lili couldn't help but smile. Everyone was moving up in life. Everyone, except...
Bell and Lili walked back to the abandoned church as the sun was beginning to set. Lili's stomach grumbled, and her dog-ears drooped. Bell stopped in his tracks and turned to her.
"Hungry?" He chuckled. "Come on, I bet Hestia's made bread rolls for us."
"Uuu..." Lili patted her stomach and followed Bell into the church, through the pews, down a staircase, and into his room.
Hestia was snoring hard on the couch. There weren't any bread rolls, and now Bell's stomach was grumbling, too. He checked the cabinets. Toasted cob webs and fermented fruit flies.
"She must have been exhausted," said Bell. "But I'm so hungry. It's at least half an hour from here to the shops."
Their stomachs grumbled in unison. They hadn't eaten since leaving the dungeon yesterday.
"It's too bad you live so far away from the market," said Lili. "Weren't you and Hestia saving up for a real house in town?"
"Yeah," Bell nodded. "Lili, do you know about the 'Glass Garden?'"
Lili shook her head. Bell sorted through a dresser until he found something dark blue with a white collar and put it on.
"It's an upscale restaurant that opened near here a week ago. I looked at the prices one day, and they were way too high, but now, I think we can afford it."
Lili stepped back. "'We?' Bell, what are you saying?"
"I want to properly thank you for all your help," Bell extended his hand, palm down, and Lili's face turned bright red. "Lili, let's go on a date!"
"Wha-wha-wha-wha-" Lili stared at Bell's hand, eyes wide with shock. "What about the Benevolent Mistress?"
"Miss Mia has been really kind to me," Bell said. "But we always eat there. This is a really special occasion, right?"
After a moment that felt like a million years, Lili took his hand from below, shaking. They walked, hand in hand, out the church and back into evening light.
Lili stared at the sign outside. She was white in the face.
The prices went on like that.
"Bell, this is too much!" Lili tugged on his hand. "Five hundred Valis for tea!? Come on, the market isn't THAT far!"
Bell laughed. He'd put on a suit-and-tie. Lili had never seen him in a suit. She wondered whether he was saving it for a date like this all along. She felt under-dressed in her red-and-white dungeon outfit.
The "Glass Garden" was a large, glass dome down the road from the church. You could call it a gentrification project, an attempt to bring money normally concentrated around Orario's Tower into the city's outskirts. The gimmick was this: in the dome's center was a very small kitchen, seating for about twenty people, and surrounding it was a vast greenhouse garden. Most of the food served in the restaurant was grown in the dome, year-round, and prepared in the same place. Other restaurants carted in food from the farms outside the city, so the Glass Garden was a novelty, and rich, retired adventurers loved novelty.
The adventurer and his supporter sat down amidst a sea of flowering vegetables. A tall, Chienthrope lady walked up their table. She was wearing an small, black dress, hardly appropriate for an upscale restaurant, and her cat-ears had little heart decorations strung around them.
"Welcome to the Glass Garden, cute thing! May I take your order?" She bent down in front of Bell, way down, until he was looking directly at-
Lili shot up from her seat, arms to her chest, teeth clenched, and shouted:
"Bell, just what kind of restaurant did you bring me to!?"
Lili idly stirred her "LEMON-STEW." Her other hand held her head. She watched a busty, Elfen waitress flirt with a large man at another table. At least she didn't feel under-dressed now.
"I guess that's why the prices are so high," said Bell. He forked a bite of IMITATION-CHICKEN. "I promise I didn't know! Boy, even Miss Mia doesn't make her workers do all THAT."
"I guess the food isn't bad," said Lili, still looking away. "Are you still enjoying this?"
"Yeah," Bell tried to see what she was staring at. "Even though it's expensive, it's worth it! Everything tastes so fresh."
"No, I mean us. Adventuring," Lili's eyes met Bell's. "Welf is helpful, but I lost all our other loot last time, and because of me, you had to carry us to the rest area yourself. I can't do anything like you can. I'm just a level one supporter who's becoming a burden."
"Of course I'm enjoying it," He put his hands behind his head. "Lili, if your strength really bothers you, why don't we fix that?"
"Huh?" Lili stopped stirring.
"About the money," He looked back down at Lili. "I was thinking, if we had enough left over from the house, maybe you could join Hestia Familia."
"Really!?" Their bowls clinked as Lili leaned in and slammed her fist on the table. She made a big, silly grin but quickly turned sombre again. "Bell, you've been so generous, but shouldn't you ask your goddess before you offer something like that? Anyway, I lost most of my savings to Soma adventurers before you saved me. Even with 500,000 Valis, surely you couldn't afford to do both!"
"Hm," Bell sipped his ORANGE-TEA. "Okay. Then we'll pay off your debt first and buy the house later."
Lili froze, still leaned over the table.
"We've had a lot of close calls in the dungeon lately," Bell looked down at his half-eaten food. "In my rush to get stronger, I never think about how short life can be. When I fought the Goliath and got knocked out, I was floating above my body. I could see Hestia and Hermes trying to wake me up. I really thought it was the end. So I thought, while I'm alive, I should take care of the most important things."
"Bell..." Lili was NOT going to cry.
"And... what's important to me is you, Lili."
Bell didn't notice until now, but he was sweating. The glass dome focused sunlight, and water barrels around the Garden stored heat, so it was sweltering inside the restaurant. Even so, Lili wasn't sweating nearly as much as him. Was it really the heat? He'd never felt nervous around Lili. Before now, he'd only felt this way around-
Lili's chair was empty, and in a blur, he was knocked off his own chair. He saw the sky through the dome before Lili's silhouette came into focus. She had him pinned to the floor, and her tears were falling on his face. The wait staff, patrons, and gardeners stopped and stared. Before he could say anything, Lili's lips met his.
After a moment that felt like a million years, Lili pulled back. A string of saliva still hung between them. Bell's face was a perfect ꒪Д꒪.
"Bell," said Lili. "Was that your first...?"
Realis Phrase was gone.
Goddess Hestia put her hands on her knees and grumbled. Was she wrong about the skill's trigger? She must've been. It's not like Bell fell out of love with that evil Wallen-whatsit woman. Or had he? No, he couldn't have. She'd watched him work hard every day to catch up with Aiz. Why was Realis Phrase gone? How was she going to explain this to Bell? Sorry, Bell, your growth spurt is over. But hey! You grew a couple inches to go with your stats! Isn't that good enough?
Hestia almost gestured to dismiss the status update interface but stopped. Maybe she could figure this out without revealing anything.
"Bell-kun, have you seen Wallenwhozit since we got back?" Hestia pursed her lips.
"No," said Bell. "Riveria invited us to a thank-you dinner at the Benevolent Mistress tomorrow night. She'll probably be there."
"Grrrr..." Hestia held it in. She had to get to the bottom of this. "Well, did anything happen between you two before she left for the surface?"
"No, Goddess," Bell turned away from the pillow to look at her. "I mean, we met the night before, but you saw us then. Eheheh."
"You've been working really hard, but even after that boss, you're still only Level 2." It wasn't like Hestia to push him toward another woman, but a Goddess had to do what a Goddess had to do. "You don't think you're good enough for her with a difference of 4 levels, do you?"
"Goddess, what's this all about?" Every time Bell thought about Aiz Wallenstein, his mind would jump back to Lili lying on him, ears wobbling, a thread of spit between their mouths. His face went bright red. Hestia noticed.
"Listen, Bell-kun," She stood up on the bed and changed to her over-the-top Admiral Goddess voice. "I believe in you! You can catch up to that Wallen-lady. If you work hard every day, and start being more forward, any woman is sure to fall in love with you. Even her!"
Bell would have normally laughed at Hestia's passion, but he couldn't stop thinking about dinner. He was so flustered that he didn't even order to-go for Hestia. A pang of guilt struck as he realized, in the heat of the moment, he'd chosen Lili over his Goddess. If he died tomorrow, Lili would be free, but Hestia would still live in this run-down church basement.
Hestia dismissed the interface and turned away to write his stats down. With Realis Phrase gone, she didn't have to lie to him about his skills any more. Even so, it wasn't like a skill to just disappear so easily.
"Sorry, Bell, Goddess, the market was closing!" Lili's voice echoed from atop the stairs. "I got potatoes and bread while I could."
Hestia's stomach let loose an ancient, primal roar.
"Miss Supporter, I love you I love you I love you!" She jumped off the bed to hug Lili. When Bell looked her way, Hestia was rocking her back and forth. Even through this, Bell saw Lili wink.
"Eek!" Bell pulled his shirt back on with newly ranked-up speed. "I mean, thank you, Lili!"
Of course Lili wouldn't mention their date. His mind jumped back to after the meal, as they stood outside the Glass Garden:
"I'll pick up some food at the market," said Lili. She knew he was avoiding her eyes, and so was she. "I'll be back before dark. Okay?"
"Yeah, it was my, uh," Bell was still stuck on what she'd said earlier. "It was my first k- ki- I mean- I was saving it for someone who- I don't mean to say you're not-"
"Oh, Bell," Lili grabbed his arm and pulled herself to him. "I ruined something for you again, didn't I? See, this is what I was telling you. I'm a no-good Prum who just makes your life harder."
"That's not true! Stop putting yourself down," Bell snapped. He bent down to her height and patted her head. "Lili, you know I can be dense, right? I didn't know you thought about me like that. I was stunned."
"I was just so happy," Lili said. "I didn't have any way to repay you except a kiss."
"Consider your payment accepted." Bell smiled and pulled her in close. "But... Eheheheh... maybe you'd like to make a longer-term contract?"
Lili grinned a devilish grin, and they kissed once more before parting ways.
Just an hour ago, it was perfect like a storybook. Now, picking at a bread roll and pretending to eat, Bell watched Lili make dreamy eyes toward him across the table. He realized how serious his words were. Hestia was too busy chowing down to notice.
The Loki Familia made a lot of noise when they were together. They were a big Familia, after all, with lots of burly men and women. In Miss Mia's restaurant, telling wild stories about the week's expedition and the fight against Black Goliath, they were so loud, Bell couldn't hear himself think.
He sat between Hestia and Aiz. It was only ten minutes in, and Hestia was already on her fifth ale. Aiz was more refined, eating slowly and drinking tea. Bell was thankful for the arrangement as he couldn't see Lili sitting two seats away.
"Come on, Bell-kun! Why haven't you said anything to her? Strong women like her want strong men!" Bell didn't hear anything Hestia said. He just stared, blankly, at his noodle plate. "If you're not going to go after her then you should just marry me!"
Hestia continued grumbling. Aiz saw Bell looking down and put her hand on his back.
"Bell," It was the second time she'd used his given name. "Is something wrong?"
Syr brought a sixth ale for Hestia and smiled at Bell. It was at that moment he realized he couldn't take it any more.
"I'M SORRY, EVERYONE!"
Bell swiped Hestia's ale, gulped down the entire thing in one go, stood up so fast he knocked his seat down, and dashed out of the restaurant.
"Not this again," Miss Mia scowled behind the counter. "That kid!"
Bell huffed and puffed. Even a speedster like him could only run so far. He stopped, fell to his knees, and caught his breath near a fence. Below, the River Orario glistened under the moonlight as it ran through the city. Rain pitter-pattered on the road.
"Bell-kun, that was really rude," He wasn't surprised Hestia would find him so quickly. She knew him better than anyone. "You know you can tell your Goddess anything, right? That's one of the benefits of belonging to a Familia."
Bell teared up just as the rain turned from a dribble to a downpour. He couldn't tell his tears from the water. He hoped Hestia couldn't, either.
"Goddess, forgive me," Bell stood up, turned to Hestia and fell on all fours.
He saw a smaller figure behind Hestia, just a shape in the rain. As it approached, he realized it was Lili. She was holding a box.
"Bell, you didn't finish your dinner," said Lili. "What happened?"
"Miss Supporter, you're interrupting," Hestia spun around and waved her finger at Lili. "This is between Bell-kun and I!"
"No, it's not," said Bell. Hestia turned her head. "Goddess, this morning, I went to Soma Familia with most of our Valis."
"Whaaat!?" Hestia covered her mouth. "Bell-kun, don't tell me you got robbed!"
"I wasn't robbed," Bell's tears were audible now. "I offered them 100,000 Valis for Lili. When they wouldn't take it, I went up to 150,000. In the end, I paid 400,000 to release her. I'm sorry, Goddess!"
"It sounds like you were robbed to me," Hestia rubbed her chin. "But if you got your supporter released, isn't that a good thing? Why are you on your hands and feet?"
"I promised you I would give you a better life, and a better place to live," said Bell. "But in the end, I chose my supporter over my Goddess! I did it because I love my supporter - I mean, Lili! I really do, Goddess! Please, please, forgive me!"
Hestia was touched. She crooked her head, bent down, and began to say something when Lili dropped the box, rushed forward, and embraced Bell. For a second, Hestia didn't understand what she was seeing, and after that, she saw but didn't believe. Lili and Bell were kissing, wordless, as rain poured down on them and lightning cracked over the city.
Slowly, beneath a red mist of jealousy, anger, and pain, gears spun in Hestia's head. Everything made sense now.
"Fufufu," Hestia stood up and folded her arms. Bell pulled away from Lili, and they looked at Hestia with puppy-dog eyes. "Bell-kun, as punishment for your disobedience, you are to keep adventuring with your supporter until you have enough money to buy me not just a house but a mansion! Yes, a really big one, like Loki's! It'll be the talk of the town!"
"I promise," said Bell, forcing a smile.
"Additionally," Hestia walked to their side and stared down her nose at Bell and his supporter. "You must take responsibility for making this poor supporter girl fall in love with you! Protect her always and help her become strong as she's helped you!"
"I promise!" Bell glanced at Lili.
"Don't think you're off the hook, Miss Supporter!" Hestia glared at the little Prum. "You're the one stealing my Bell-kun, you know? Anyway, Hestia Familia membership does not come free! No kiss-and-run, hmmmm? You're by his side forever now, and you're going to help him get that money!"
"Waaahhh!" Lili got up and, to Hestia's surprise, hugged her so tight she could barely breathe. "Thank you, Goddess! Thank you!"
"Loki was nice enough to pay for our meals, you know," said Lili, opening the to-go box. After Hestia went back to apologize for their behaviour, the two found a shady shop front to keep them dry. "You should thank her later. Aren't you hungry?"
"Not really," said Bell. "Not enough for a full plate of noodles."
"Well, I am," Lili smiled. "Dinner for two?"
"Yeah," Bell grabbed a noodle from the box. "A second date."
Lili caught the other end of the noodle, and as they slurped, their faces drew closer until, at last, the noodle vanished, and they were one.
The next morning, Hestia found Realis Phrase on Bell's status again. All according to plan. After all, a boy like Bell, who wanted to be a hero, needed a goal. Although that supporter had stolen Bell from her, Goddess Hestia found peace knowing her happiness was Bell's new goal.
Every day after that, a white-haired boy and a small, red-haired girl could be seen walking through the dungeon, hand in hand.