Secrets of a Vitrescent Heart

A oneshot by The Fetid Conceited

Disclaimer: I don't own Star Ocean, not even in my dreams.

Counfound it all, I was inspired to write a oneshot about my favourite character paired with my least favourite. Quite the contradiction.
Beware, it's unedited. I will perhaps tend to its dire needs of polishing should anyone prompt me to. For now, it's amazingly raw.

Pairing: AlbelSophia. Alphia?

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

Never before have I seen someone so cheery in my presence.

Sophia hummed cheerfully to herself as she bustled about the room, tidying it up as to lift the burden placed on the innkeeper and maids.

"Knock it off." He commanded tersely.

"If you say so." She replied deferentially. She abruptly continued her self-appointed duties, occasionally flashing a kind smile to the angsty swordsman who insisted on burying himself in the darkest corner of the room.

No one has attempted to lighten my mood in nine years.

"Why do you insist on doing this? It's not your job to do the mindless tasks of an expendable maggot."

"I just felt like doing something nice for someone. Everyone appreciates it if you do something nice for them, even if it's as simple as doing some chores that they're supposed to do. You should try it sometime." She punctuated her statement with another sickly-sweet smile.

"Bah. It's a waste of my time to complete menial labor for the benefit of another." The lithe swordsman pushed himself away from the wall, walking with a murderous gait toward the door. "When you're done wasting your time, come to the entrance of the inn."

"Oka-" The door slammed before she could finish her laconic statement. My, what a hothead. He needs to lighten up a little. Well, Fayt and the others won't be back for a while, so maybe I can spend some time with him and see if I can't do something about that. She crossed her arms in satisfaction as she surveyed the ordered room. Giving a nod of approval, she hastened out the door, following the Twisted One.

I've been alone for all this time, and only recently have I borne an aversion toward it.

"Albel, wait up!" The chipper brunette called, trotting to catch up with the lanky figure. Albel's pace hadn't slackened at her request; if anything, he quickened it. She finally caught up. "Whew! You sure walk fast…"

"If you can't keep up, then don't bother following." Albel's algid gaze drifted from person to person, and a smirk formed on his face as he could detect their trepidation toward him.

"Can't you be nice for once?" She asked, miffed.

"No." He answered definitely. "There's no point."

"Yes there is! Will you- ah, forget it… Where are you going, anyways?" She quickly learned to exclude the pronoun 'we' from any sentences spoken to the Twisted One.

I couldn't stand to relinquish the façade.

"To train." Came a curt reply.

"Can I come with you?" Fayt had forced her into promising to stay with Albel, no matter where he wandered.

"Stay out of my way." It was as close to consent as he could give.

I couldn't distinguish between strong and weak anymore.

The evening sun cast a shade of rust across the barren landscape. Transplendent mountains peaked far above her, conjuring the illusion of the sky being held up by these majestic sights. Sophia gasped in amazement at the natural wonders, her gaze not once drifting to the path before her. "Wow…" She uttered aloud, mouth agape in trance.

"Keep moving, maggot, such desolate scenery is undeserving of any praise."

"Are you, in some weird way, complementing me?"

"I'm merely affirming that you have bad taste. Now keep moving."

The pair soon encountered some monsters, and Sophia departed from the scene to lean against a water-weathered rock. She sighed listlessly as she took the time to look about her once again. Nature's beauty was marvelous. It had been many years since she's seen something outside of man's creation or the endless abyss of space. During her travels with Fayt, a great wealth of knowledge was uncovered about her parents' covert research, that which was forbidden by the Federation and punishable by death. She had learned of her 'higher' existence and the burden it placed on her. Now, it was finally time for her to sit back and enjoy everything at face value and to give her mind a well-deserved rest.

Her eyes drifted from spectacle to spectacle before finally deciding to settle on an animate display, such being Albel and his seemingly never-ending battles. She watching his agile form twist and dodge, occasionally twirling to meet his opponent's face with his claw. His hair streamed out behind him, occasionally framing his form with fine white spirals as he slashed at an air dragon overhead. Never once did he cease motion.

"He's actually quite handsome on the outside," she mused, "but he's a nightmare personality-wise." She lifted her staff and twirled it overhead as she cast a healing spell on him. His eyes diverted to her for an ephemeral moment, a silent thanks. She closed her eyes and smiled to herself, letting time pass her by.

"Quit dawdling, idiot!" Albel shouted, rousing Sophia from her ponderings. She immediately dashed after him as he pursued a weakened dragon. Finally cornering the beast, Albel raised his sword executioner's style to finish it off.

"Look out!" Sophia shrieked from a distance.

Albel hadn't the time to glance up before a powerful claw struck him across the face. He staggered and quickly recovered, only to realize he was trapped against the wall. Time slowed as his adrenaline kicked in, and his thoughts focused on only the task at hand. Hastily surveying his surroundings with a sharpened eye, he spotted an obscure passage through the mountain. "In here!" He shouted to Sophia, not waiting for her to follow.

Sophia shrieked in pain as an air dragon clipped her shoulder. It roared at her and shifted to face her, its mouth opening and filling with lethal dragon's flame. Not again, Albel thought as he raced to the girl's aid. The dragon paid no heed to the frail-looking man. Albel rushed the creature, which was low enough to the ground for Albel to run it through. Feeling warm dragon's blood gush over his arms, Albel struggled to free his sword. However, he was too late as the dragon toppled over the cliff in its death throes, taking the Twisted One with it.

Sophia rushed for the dark swordsman in hopes of catching him, but another dragon blocked her path. Backing up, she raised her staff in an attack posture; invoking symbology to send bolts of fire and shards of ice raining down on her foe. It succeeded as a distraction for her to detour around it, only to realize her efforts were in vain. She could hardly make out a speck of purple in the misty depths below. "Oh no… Am I too late?"

She sought the only descending path she could find in a frantic effort to assist her gravely injured, and possibly dead, ally. The dragon pursued her hungrily, waiting for her false step to catch and kill her. Sophia's mind raced, exploding with worries. Sophia made her way through endless mazes of rock, hoping to lose her attacker and find some way to get to the bottom of the ravine where Albel fell. Glancing back, she noted the absence of the dragon and slowed her pace to rest. Her breath came in shortened gasps as she recovered from the unwelcome cardio exercise. After recovering, she traveled the steep-grade path with determination.

The sun sunk below the horizon and dark hues of night crept into the sky. Visibility was low in the nighttime murk, and the path was becoming increasingly harder to see. Oh no, Sophia fretted. I'll never be able to find Albel in this heavy fog… Nevertheless, she continued her declension with caution. Recognizing that it would be futile to look over the side of the cliff to gauge her distance from the bottom of the ravine, she kicked a handful of gravel over the side and listened for their clatter. She smiled as it took but a second for the noise to echo back up to her. She tentatively reached her leg over the side, and smiled once again as she discovered that she needn't even jump to reach the bottom.

She searched for what seemed like hours along the ravine, and her efforts were fruitless. There was not a sign of the two-toned warrior. As the revelation set in, she slid down the wall she had leaned against to rest, and tears began to form in her eyes. What if I never find him? What if I'm too late? Tears cascaded down her cheeks as she imagined the strong and sinuous warrior lying motionless at the bottom of the abyss. He can't be dead… Guilt dominated her thoughts as her mind simulated countless despairing scenarios that only worked to aggravate her dolor. She finally cried herself to sleep.

Sophia awoke to the first light of dawn and rubbed her sore eyes. She was still grief-stricken from last night, which killed her appetite. She looked about her; taking in the scenery that would normally impress her had such a dire situation not been present. She slowly rose to her feet and trudged along the ravine's bed listlessly. A half-hour of wandering left her parched of thirst and she scanned her surroundings for any form of water, only to have a blur of purple catch her peripheral vision. Hope instantly rising within her, she scampered toward the purple speck only to discover that it was only a lone violet. Tears returned to her eyes as she picked the flower, regarding it with saddened eyes. Tossing it to the side, she continued her walk and wrapped herself in turbulent thoughts.

Sophia's leg caught on a… something, and she fell to the ground. "Ouch! What was that?" She looked over to see that she had stumbled over the legs of the very man she was searching for, and laughed with relief. "Finally, I found you!" She exclaimed, mostly to herself. She hastened to sit up and examine the unconscious swordsman's injuries. She frowned at the deep gashes along his left side and temple. Sophia caressed the gash across his temple tentatively. There was a significant pool of blood beneath the man, and she contemplated how he could've survived such massive blood loss after a long fall. What worried her more was that there was no sign of the dragon. Pushing that thought to the side, she turned her attention to his pulse and found it beating very faintly in his neck. Sophia twirled her staff to cast the most complicated healing spell she knew, costing her jeopardous amounts of energy.

Crimson eyes settled on Sophia's face, struggling to focus. Sophia smiled in relief as she watched her companion regard her with quiet indifference.

Waking up and seeing your smiling face… I couldn't resist anymore…

"Thank God you're awake…" She whispered breathlessly. "I thought you were dead…" Shifting position, she wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head just below her chin, inadvertently putting pressure on a painful bruise. Albel let out a strangulated cry.

Quickly raising her head, Sophia whispered frantic apologies. Her voice trailed off as she found herself gazing into the enigmatic vermilion depths of his eyes. She felt as if she was under a basilisk's stare and a siren's song. Her eyes widened in surprise as his lips met her in a gentle kiss. She quickly bolted upright, watching the unreadable expression in his eyes change to that of turbulent emotion.

I never intended for this to happen, I didn't want to think that such emotion could befall me. But I always felt my eyes straying to you on idle days, and I couldn't look away. I was always jealous and caustic when Fayt was around, carelessly flirting with you as if you were his property. I couldn't hold it in anymore. I never meant for this feeling to complicate my life, and here I found myself in an existential crisis. The way you looked at me, I thought for that second, all life had ended. You hated me. And I never wanted to tell you

"I love you." Albel whispered.

"…What?"

Albel quickly shut his eyes and turned his head to the side. He raised his good hand to his face in an attempt to cover the embarrassment brought by his actions. His head swam with turmoil, and countless malevolous, condescending phrases circulated through his mind, criticizing his recent lapse in judgment.

"…Say it again."

"What? Why? What's the point? You belong to Fayt…"

"You misunderstand us, then. We're just really good friends… Albel, look at me."

Albel's lowered his hand and his unrelenting crimson gaze shifted to the woman in front of him.

She kissed him, simultaneously caressing his cheek. "It's okay. I love you too… But we need to get out of here now."

The swordsman made a futile attempt to sit up. "…I can't move."

Sophia laughed with tired cheerfulness. "Neither can I." She gently rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes, letting fatigue wash over her.

Albel protectively wrapped his arms around his newfound love and let out a sigh. What was originally a simple training task had elaborated itself into something complex, and he carelessly let slip one of his deepest secrets… Pent up emotion found its release through his eyes as he abandoned the tyrannical façade.