Title: Drag

Coupling: Vox x Albel, Cliff x Albel

Disclaimer: Star Ocean is the property of Squeenix.

Summary: Vox returns from the dead. Albel Nox is less than pleased with this development, to say the least.

Rating: M (or R) for violence, language, non-con, character death, and weird shit. Lots of the last one.

Notes: Excuse equals 'I'm trying a new writing style'. Reality equals 'I'm obviously insane'. Anyway, in terms of the series, this takes place after the game, although I seem to be ignoring Albel's ending.

Many, many thanks to Sahara Storm for beta-ing. You're the best, darling.


He can't breathe.

He's not sure if it's because of the damn gag in his mouth—otherwise known as a rag suffering from severe delusions, and judging by the taste and its owner it was probably used to wipe a dragon's ass—or because his nose is broken. Probably both. Maybe even a bit of something else, as his ribs feel a bit broken. Considering how many times they've hit him, that's probably a given. He probably shouldn't have compared the guy's mother to mule shit, but thinking has never been his strong suit when he's angry.

Although that's not to imply that he's stupid because he isn't, really, despite what some people like to think. Strategy. Strategy, he can do. And he's known the best places to stab a person since he was six, at his mother's heartwarming insistence. But the sort of thinking one needs to do in order to keep his face from playing catch with incoming fists… that, he's never been quite as good at. Probably 'cause he's always been a little on the masochistic side, ever since he started using his arms as firewood for dragons.

But what he wants or doesn't want really isn't a consideration right now, so it doesn't really matter if his tongue is working faster than his brain. Not that it would make much of a difference even if he did keep his mouth shut, as they seem to be taking some perverse pleasure from beating the shit out of him anyway despite the fact that he's actually been keeping quiet (although not by choice).

Maybe he's being punished for his existence again. Fate's—and Fayt, although it's common knowledge that the maggot is not to be referred to by name—been doing that for quite some time now, so why doesn't everyone else join in the fun too? Then again, he can't kill fate. He's tried, but the closest he got was to the creator of this pathetic universe, and look at the difference that made (i.e., none). But as for these weaklings? As soon as he's free, he's going to make sure they get well-acquainted with their intestines.

Then, as if someone heard that last thought, a fist slams into his gut, causing him to retch. The problem with that is that the bile's got no place to go so it just goes back the way it came from, choking him in the process. Bastards must be psychic or something, to know what he's thinking. Either that, or they have really good timing.

Unfortunately, bastard number one is also annoyingly observant, and rather than let him choke and die in peace, the gag's quickly removed and his traitorous body forces the bile right back up. It's somewhat irritated at all this indecision, having had to go up and down like that already, and in its spite it feels like his throat went right with it as he coughs it all out. Some blood has decided to join the festival, and to his utter delight a great quantity of the mixture lands on someone's shiny new shoe.

Cue the cursing and another knock to the head. It's still not enough to lay him out, but now that he's got his tongue working again it's really only a matter of time.

But the insults are slow to form—probably an effect of his brain rattling in his skull with a completely incomprehensible rhythm—and so he settles for laughing instead. It comes out almost like a demented witch cackle, but it's the best he can muster under the circumstances. For bonus points it has its intended effect, and it doesn't take long for the morons to start beating the shit out of him again.

The incompetent fools might actually manage it this time. Certainly would have taken them long enough. Distantly he could hear someone yelling for them to stop before they kill him—probably bastard number one, being the only one among them to possess something vaguely similar to a brain—but the bloodlust is up and it's one against six, him included. If that guy tries to 'save' him again he'll do something drastic, like bite off an eyeball.

He's done it before. Several times, actually, all in the past hour. He has also realized that eyeballs don't taste that good, but hey, he's willing to make a few sacrifices.

It's probably a little pathetic that he's getting killed by five idiots, especially since they wouldn't be anywhere near him if he was unrestrained. But he's gone through hell and back and then some, and since he's in no position to fight back they're going to have a free for all. A little pathetic? Make it a lot pathetic.

The upside of it all is that he's finding it rather difficult to care as he completely loses sense of what's even happening. He can hear a little yelling, a lot of cursing, and maybe even his own voice still laughing because don't the maggots even realize that they're just giving him what he wants?

After all, there's the fact that Vox obviously wants him somewhat alive, if that fool's screeching has any truth to it.

Nothing makes Albel happier than pissing Vox off.

Woltar looks slightly horrified at his appearance as he's dragged into the old coot's room, still regretfully alive and annoyingly awake. He grins and earns another kick, but it's nothing new. He has a suspicion that he might be dying, considering his body's diminishing reactions to the various acts of brutality he's being subjected to, but it still hurts too much for him to consider caring. It's sorta ironic seeing how he's all for the dying part, except it's taking far too long.

Still, Woltar should have reacted better. The bastard's seen men cooked alive—what's a few cuts and bruises?

He finds himself planted in front of a mirror and gets a good look at himself. Ah. Alright, so maybe he does look a bit shitty.

"Vox." Woltar's hiss forces him to stop admiring his appearance. That, and the fact that Vox is now standing before them in all his grand delusional glory, looking rather a lot like a preening peacock who has just pecked a few rivals to death. Which is essentially what he is, minus the death thing. But again, that's really only a matter of time, and Albel tilts his head slightly—creating a chorus of shrieks of protest in the back of his mind, all of which are promptly ignored in the favor of insanity—to stare at the man. He looks good for someone who is dead, and Albel promises silently to remedy that as soon as his arm is in one piece again. Or maybe even two. He can manage it, and as he's debating exactly how many pieces his arm can be in and still allow him to lift a sword, Woltar continues, "How are you still alive?"

"Very carefully," Albel quips sweetly, but much to his annoyance, everyone ignores him. Woltar does spare him an exasperated look, but quickly turns his attention back to Vox. The man looks like he will explode if his pride causes him to swell any further, which would be fun to watch, albeit a bit messy.

"Or perhaps it does not even matter," Woltar amends, looking torn between glaring at Vox or Albel. Maybe if he crawls a bit closer to the bastard, Woltar won't hurt himself having to decide. But Woltar decides that this is the moment to prove that he's not senile and drooling yet, and focuses his attention on Vox. "What are you doing here?"

Vox blesses them with a mysterious smile. At least, that's what Albel assumes is going on since the smile just makes Vox look more idiotic than usual. He has a feeling that's not what the melodramatic moron is aiming for, although considering who he's talking about, there's always the possibility. Maybe Vox snapped in his revitalization. Maybe Vox was always crazy. He's been saying it for years, although nobody bothered to heed his words. At least now he'll be able to spend the rest of his life—however short that's going to be—saying 'I told you so'.

"Is that any way to treat an old comrade?" Vox asks as he brings the point of his sword to Woltar's neck. Albel nearly gags at the triteness of the question, and then really does when he earns his millionth blow to the stomach. Good thing most of what was in there is already gone, although his throat hurts like a bitch as a result. It makes him sound fucking raspy too, as if he's also been wheezing for eighty years.

"You were no comrade of mine," Woltar snaps, showing more bite than he's demonstrated in the whole of twenty-five years. "You're a mad, power-hungry fool, and that was what got you killed."

Ooh, harsh. Not nearly harsh enough, but it's Woltar. Can't expect much better out of him, except when he's using the legacy of Glou Nox against him.

"And you were always too soft-hearted," Vox replies, taking a moment to sigh dramatically. Albel watches the movement in fascination, taking the moment to enjoy the mental image of the Crimson Scourge going through that thick neck. It goes away all too quickly, returning him to a reality that has always been a constant disappointment. "We never should have surrendered to a bunch of goddess-worshiping bitches. Was that your idea too?"

For once they agree on something, but he can't admit to that. They're not allowed to agree on anything; it's a matter of principle.

Woltar flushes at the insult, and even the top of his head seems to turn a little pink. "If you were in my position, I doubt you would have acted differently."

"You're forgetting that Vox doesn't think, old man."

A foot slams down on his right hand, which oddly enough has yet to be broken. That's just been remedied, and it's only through a great show of strength that he doesn't start screaming. But logic actually has a say in it this time around, telling his vocal cords that screaming would just make it hurt more so there's really no point in giving Vox another reason to mock him.

"Stop that!" Woltar orders at the men who have been happily abusing him for the past day, although everyone knows the old man's orders mean shit in this situation. Perhaps less even, as shit usually can garner some sort of reaction. Woltar's just useless. The old man makes to move forward, but then the sword is still at his neck and Woltar remembers it before everything can go kersplat. He's helpless, just as helpless as Albel is except with less broken limbs involved. And then he remembers why he prefers Woltar to keep out of his business as one of the men decide to show exactly how useless Woltar's commands are by kicking him hard enough to send him flying. It's not a very far way to go, but the sudden stop as wall collides with his skull is more than mind-numbingly painful.

There goes some more blood. He can't have that much left anymore, right?

Vox laughs at this display. Albel can't tell if the bastard's amused with Woltar's idiocy or his agony, but maybe it's a combination of the two. It soon proves to be the least of his worries, unless he's hallucinating Vox turning back to Woltar and saying, "Don't worry, Woltar. I won't kill him yet. But you, on the other hand…" He lets the sentence drift into a dramatic pause. Again, Albel resists the urge to bang his head against the wall. If he does that, at least he won't have to be awake to listen to this parade of clichés.

"I'll kill you."

Gaping silence follows this bold proclamation, or as bold as it can be when it comes out barely above a strangled rasp. It takes him a moment to figure out who said that, even though the words came out of his own mouth. There's no way in hell it could really be him, could it? But his mouth is still moving and the words are spilling out and what the fuck is wrong with him? "Fucking bastard. I don't care how you survived, but I'll make sure to throw your rotting corpse back into hell. But then that's why you're here, isn't it? Hell couldn't stand you and spat you back out so we'd have to deal with your sorry existence again. Perhaps if I cut off your tongue, they'll be more receptive? Cut off your face too, so you'll stop scaring the demons. Maybe then-"

He's surprised that he got as far as he did, and then there's nothing but pain and agony and pain and agony and soon he knows there will be nothing. But the combination of all these things is still not as bad as his arm burning off and Glou Nox dying because of his utter incompetence because nothing hurt as bad as that.

Although at this rate he might have to amend that statement just a little bit.

"Stop it!" Woltar sounds like a sheep, bleating words that don't even make a difference and never will. "Stop it, you'll kill him!"

Relax, he wants to snarl except it's impossible to get a coherent word out now. He does feel a little happier that Woltar apparently cares about him. For a moment there he was worried that Woltar was just worrying about his carpet. Expensive shit it was, although it's worth nil now that it's covered in blood. Anyway, the sentiment, useless as it is, justifies his stupidity, although Woltar is wasting it. Doesn't the old man get it, or is he really that senile? He could use this moment to do something productive, like getting a sword or getting a mace or just getting the hell away instead of standing there screaming like a mother hen. What's the point of Albel distracting them if the fool doesn't do anything with it?

There's also the somewhat disturbing thought that he's becoming soft. He'd never have done something like this before them. Shit. The damn maggots have made him soft. He'll kill them all the next time he saw them, which at this rate will be never.

"That's enough." Vox's voice is soft and he can barely hear it over his own wheezing, but suddenly they've stopped and they're parting like Vox is a god in their presence. Considering their pathetic hero-worship, maybe that's what he really is to them.

He hates to admit it, but he has no insults to offer up. In fact, nothing comes out except a gurgle of blood when Vox grabs him by the chain of his collar and forces his mouth open. With absolutely no explanation, a bit out of character for an egotistical megalomaniac who enjoys monologuing as much as the next worm, Vox sticks some liquid down his throat and he's so surprised to discover that it's sweet that he automatically swallows it instead of trying to choke on it and die. Which was probably not the best idea ever, but it wasn't exactly by choice.

He doesn't know what the thing is, although it can't be worse than those damn tears of whatever that Fayt kept throwing at him during battles. And surprisingly, it's not. Everything becomes foggy and he wonders if this is what death feels like, except he's still bizarrely aware of his surroundings. He can even feel as his gauntlet is removed although he's in no position to fight it, and in the very far distance he can hear Woltar dying. And there's the smell of blood. Not his, for a change. Then the thump of a body landing on the ground, another of a head landing. He can see it clearly, but he's just not comprehending.

Woltar's staring at him. It's staring at him. Because it's no longer Woltar but just a head, really, although it has his face and his eyes and his blood that is leaking onto the now definitely worthless carpet. And as horrific as it is, as painful as it is to lose another person right before his eyes because he couldn't do anything to stop it, he can't bring himself to care because suddenly something is happening and he doesn't know what. Nobody's really paying attention to him anymore, probably too busy congratulating Vox on killing a defenseless old man, but that's all about to change as he throws his head back and screams his bloody lungs out.

End Notes:

The story is technically done at seventeen chapters, but the last chapters still need to be beta-ed and edited. I figure I'll update once a week, which will give my beta and I at least three months to get through those last few chapters (and considering that last chapter, it might be very necessary...), and everything should be set.