Disclaimer: If I had owned SO3, the game would've been all about Albel. Draw your conclusions. :)
Author's Notes: Okaaay… this fic is a bit difficult to summarize, but I hope you'll like it, in spite of a certain amount of pointlessness. Special thanks go to BlueTrillium for proofreading this piece, and generally for all her support in the past few days.
I'd also like to hug Neko-chan. She knows why. :)
by Lucrecia LeVrai
Glou Nox's one and only son was by no means a regular visitor to Woltar's mansion in Kirlsa, but he was always a welcome one. The guards at the gate knew him well enough, so he could walk in and out anytime he desired, be it in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. He was also given full freedom inside the house, where nobody would think to stop him from entering all those places usually inaccessible to guests: the kitchen, the storage rooms, the count's private chambers. In short, he was treated as a rightful family member.
Lord Woltar made sure it stayed that way. He wanted the young man to feel at home, because it was probably the closest thing to a 'home' Albel currently had; a place where he could relax, sleep until noon, take a well-deserved break from his duties. A place he actually liked, even if he would never admit it.
Albel's own house, an old manor situated six miles south of Kirlsa, had been empty for years, ever since Lady Nox's death. Only a handful of servants lived there. They were responsible for keeping the building in relative order, though if anyone asked their opinion, they would say that they hardly saw any sense in it. During the past twelve months, their master had spent but two nights in his own bed. When he stopped by, it was always because of some business, or to gather a few personal belongings. Such visits couldn't have lasted more than an hour.
It was strange, really, considering all the financial trouble Albel had gone through right after his father's tragedy. He had once fought not to sell the mansion, even though it might have been the most convenient solution at that time, but now he had simply left the house to drown in dust. Woltar knew that the young captain had had his reasons for both keeping the manor and ignoring it afterwards, and yet he found such an intense mourning rather unhealthy. Still, there was nothing he could do about Albel's resolve. The boy had a tendency to act as obstinate as a wild dragon…
And he came across as equally sociable.
Count Woltar sighed, inwardly cursing his old bones as he climbed the last couple of stairs that led to the first floor hallway. From what the servants had told him, Sir Nox had arrived yesterday, about ten minutes to midnight, when most of the household had already been asleep. Without bothering to greet, or even ask about the host, he had gone straight to his room, certainly quite exhausted from his journey. After hearing the news in the morning, Woltar had decided to seek his guest himself. It would be a pity if the young man left as unexpectedly as he had appeared, without exchanging a single word with him – and knowing Albel, such a thing was possible.
He didn't find his friend's son in his room, however, even though he had fully expected to see him still in bed. The maid could only spread her arms helplessly; she had no idea about the lord's whereabouts. At least some guard had seen him walk in the direction of the eastern wing, and in the end, the count resolved to give it a try. It seemed outrageous, really; a man in his late sixties chasing after some ill-mannered brat, but then again, he hadn't seen the boy in two months. Perhaps it was all worth it.
He had eventually stumbled upon the said boy in his own study, possibly the very last place he had imagined him to be. Albel's pastimes in Kirlsa included dozing off in the garden, training, snapping at everyone in sight and mocking the Storm Brigade soldiers, lum riding, drinking and hanging round the kitchen – not to help, of course, but in hope of snatching something to eat between the meals. He could hardly be seen like this, sitting behind a mahogany desk, bent over some piece of paper. Sure, he did read sometimes, but he usually took the books outside, unwilling to stay indoors if the weather was fine.
When the young man looked up to check who had just entered, Woltar was even more surprised to see a scowl on his face and a quill in his fingers. Albel writing, now this was highly irregular. Even though the boy had had many years to relearn doing most things with his right hand, writing had never been one of them. In a way, it didn't even matter – he rarely felt the need to send private letters, and for his official correspondence with the king he would simply dictate his words to one of his subordinates, then stamp his seal underneath.
Albel's irritated glare – irritated at being caught like this…? – was quickly gathering intensity, and Woltar had to snap out of his surprise really quickly if he hoped to share at least a semi-decent conversation with his guest.
"Ah, there you are," he chuckled mostly to himself, walking into the room, leaving the door ajar so that the boy wouldn't feel trapped. "So nice to see you again… I've been looking for you this entire morning. Why didn't you come down for breakfast?"
"Hmph." A slight nod from the warrior was the closest thing to a greeting Woltar would ever get. "I didn't feel like it… but I figured that you'd insist on exchanging pleasantries, so I waited for you here."
"How very thoughtful of you," the count replied, his running back and forth in the corridor still a fresh memory in his mind. "For how long are you going to stay?"
"A day or two." The younger man shrugged his arms.
"As usual, you are welcome to make yourself at home… but Albel?"
"What?" The tone was casual. Woltar frowned.
"When you leave, be sure to inform me first. Last time, you disappeared so suddenly, without telling anyone…" He trailed off, clearly indicating that he would like to hear at least some sort of explanation.
"It was five o'clock in the morning, old man, and I was in a hurry." Albel leant back in his chair, waving his claw dismissively. "Don't tell me you actually expected me to wake you up just to say goodbye."
It wasn't a question, but Woltar decided to press his point further. "You could have informed me earlier, like for example the evening before."
"Whatever," the captain said at last, his expression suggesting that he didn't really care.
Woltar sighed heavily; he knew there was little point in wasting his breath on the incorrigible boy. He walked up to the desk, instead, sliding his gaze over the scattered pieces of paper that occupied the better part of the top.
"And what might you be writing?"
He thought it would be a perfectly innocent, almost rhetorical remark, but Albel's angry snarl proved just how badly mistaken he was.
"None of your business, old man."
"Albel," once again, the count heaved an exasperated sigh. Just when and how had the boy acquired such manners? His behavior seemed so terrible at times that it was almost impossible to believe he had been raised in a nobleman's house. In terms of politeness Albel could nearly rival the kind of ruffians one would usually find in some seedy tavern.
"Nothing in particular," the young captain spoke after a while, turning his head away in an unfriendly, irritated gesture. "I was just practicing."
The confession hadn't been easy, and Woltar mentally thanked the younger man for it.
"Practicing your handwriting, I see. May I have a look?"
Albel's scowl deepened at these words. It was obvious that he would gladly refuse, tell the count to leave him alone, possibly in a much blunter way. Still, such a reply would only make him appear childish, and so he had no other choice but to agree, feigning utter nonchalance as he spoke, "Bah. If you must."
Woltar wordlessly reached for the piece of paper. Some random quotations had been scribbled on it in a semi-chaotic manner. He studied the page for quite a long moment, his old, tired eyes tracing every single line.
"Well, I would say it's actually legible," he said at last.
"Legible my ass," Albel spat, finally losing his patience, snatching the page out of the count's grasp. He promptly crumpled it into a ball, and then tossed it onto a pile of some economic reports. "A drunken rat could've done better than this. I'm only wasting my time."
"On the contrary, my boy," Woltar shook his head, not too pleased with what he could hear in the youth's voice, underneath all that anger. Albel had never pitied himself for the loss of his arm – as he felt it was nothing compared to the death of his father – but right now, his words were filled with startling bitterness. "Regular practice is essential, especially when it comes to these things. You can't give up after a few unsuccessful attempts."
"A few unsuccessful attempts!" Albel rolled his eyes. "You know all too well that I've been trying to do something about it for the past few years."
"Yes, you've already tried a couple of times," Woltar admitted. "But after a day or two, you always end up too frustrated to continue, and then you promptly forget about the whole matter, only to get down to it some half a year later, when you suddenly feel like it. Honestly, boy, you could use some patience and more determination."
"Don't preach at me, old man. It's useless." The captain raised a hand to his temple, pausing briefly to stare at his ink-stained fingers. "…Great," he scowled, a disgusted expression on his face. "Now I even have a headache."
He rose from his seat, as if to leave, but instead of passing through the door, he walked up to one of the windows that overlooked the backyard. For a brief moment, the room remained silent – Albel watched some of the soldiers train outside, while the count began to rearrange the papers on his desk.
"You once managed to relearn swordsmanship in less than six months," he eventually spoke, looking up at the slender warrior. "And by the time you were seventeen, you could hardly find a worthy opponent for yourself. Natural talent is one thing, but I'd bet a copper to a lum that you achieved such results because you were practicing every day, from dawn till dusk, until you were no longer able to stay upright." He paused, lips curling up in a wry smile. "A similar rule could be applied to writing, don't you think?"
With his head still facing away from the chamber, Albel shrugged. "That was different. I find swordsmanship much more useful."
"No doubt about that," the elderly lord agreed. "Still, there's little use for a sword in a time of peace. Now that the war is over, you have a perfect opportunity to devote yourself to all those things you have previously considered unimportant. And to succeed, you'll only need motivation."
"'Motivation', you say…" The captain ran a hand through this dark hair. His voice had been sarcastic, but Woltar swore he could sense something strange in the youth's behavior.
Knowing that he was risking much – in terms of Albel's friendship and trust – he still hazarded a guess. "…It's about Nevelle's daughter, isn't it?"
The warrior spun around, so fast that it had almost sent his thin braids flying. "Don't be ridiculous, old man!" he spat, and his indignant tone gave the count all the reply he needed.
…Of course, Woltar had no way of telling what it was exactly between the two, but that there was something, he could no longer deny. He had seen them part, nearly five months ago, right after their return from the stars. It had been a formal, almost cold goodbye – no smiles, barely a few words spoken, certainly no endearments – but Woltar had lived long enough to recognize a couple when he was looking at one. Something must have happened out there, in the world beyond Airyglyph and Aquaria. Not that Albel would ever tell him, sure, but that was where his ability to read between the lines came in handy.
"I have no intention to meddle in your private affairs," he spoke at last, unmoved by a narrowed pair of crimson eyes, following his every gesture. "I won't try to help you, either."
"I don't need your help with anything." Judging from his expression, the young man was furious… but then again, at least he was paying attention, and that certainly didn't happen very often.
"It's something you two need to figure out by yourselves," Woltar finished calmly, before the captain could snap at him and storm out of the room. "Whether you want to live like this, separated, weighted down by your duties. Perhaps it'll be better for you to forget and move on. Perhaps not. It's really not my place to say."
Albel's jaw was tense, facial muscles twitching in anger, and yet he managed to calm himself down. My, my, the count thought to himself, amused despite himself. So this really is serious.
"Just how the hell did you…" It sounded more like a curse than a question.
"Old people become observant with age," Woltar chuckled, moving to sit behind his desk. "Let's just say I've known you long enough."
Once again, Albel was left speechless, probably torn between denying the count's words and telling him to go to hell. In the end, he simply opted for his trademark nonchalance. "…Bah. What do you know, old coot. Just stay out of my business."
"Of course I will," he nodded, pressing his fingertips together and peering at the silent captain. "So… seeing that you are no longer interested in this quill…" He smiled. "When are you leaving for Aquios?"
Author's Notes: This was meant as a one-shot, folks. Use your imagination to fill in the rest. ;) Many thanks for reading!