The Tropical Butterfly Effect
Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of the Abyss.
Author's Note: Slight OOCness on Asch's part. This story is the first of a series of unrelated one-shots called "Costumes and Masks" which centers on various character costumes. Also, I changed the skit dialogue to make it fit a bit better.
Author's Note 2: This story is in no way related to Butterfly Effect movies. I just thought the title sounded cool.
Natalia peeked at the red-head beside her out of the corner of her eye. For the first time in a long time, Asch the Bloody, former God-General was actually happy—so much so that he was actually smiling. The princess glanced up at the cloudless summer sky, some part of her expecting it to snow or storm or…something because hell had certainly frozen over.
Not that she was complaining, mind you. She had actually been quite…flattered when he had shown up suddenly at the inn that morning and asked her if she wanted to go out somewhere. He hadn't said where, but she had agreed. Strangely, he had even been good-humored enough to ask the others if they wanted to come along as well. This had worried her at first. After all, Asch was probably up to something if he was willing to tolerate Luke for any length of time.
But she tried not to think about that. She tried to relish the fact that she was not only spending time with him, but also that he wanted to spend time with her. She tried to be happy that he was happy. And, most of all, she tried to forget exactly where they were going.
Of all places he had to pick, he had to pick the beach. Sure, they were in Daath which had some of the nicest beaches anywhere, but still…of all places….
A shudder ran down her spine. Beaches…which of course meant swimsuits—of which she, currently, only had one. Though, she supposed it would be better not to have one at all since at least then she could get away with buying a new one.
But the invitation had been so sudden, so unexpected, that she hadn't yet thought to do such a thing. In the back of her mind, she realized she should have lied to him when he asked her if she had one, but there was something so open and honest in his expression when he had asked that she simply couldn't bring herself to lie. Which had led her to the situation in which she now found herself.
She cast another glance towards Asch, blushing when she noticed that he was watching her and subconsciously drew her towel tighter around her.
"Are you okay?" he asked, slightly concerned.
"Y-yes," she said, trying to reassure him. "I'm just cold, that's all."
He glanced skywards where the noonday sun was blazing, but said nothing.
She looked away from him towards the water where Anise had stolen the towel off Luke's head and was currently playing a game of keep away with the replica. Tear seemed to have gotten over the embarrassment of wearing her swimsuit in public and had waded out knee-deep into the water. Mieu floated beside her, complete with a tiny inner tube that fit around the Sorcerer's Ring. The long-haired songstress seemed to be staring at the cheagle rather intently. And was that a blush on her face or the first sign of heatstroke?
At first she could not see Jade, but at last she spotted the elusive Colonel lurking in the shade of a drink stand. She grimaced when she noticed that he had elected to wear his bathrobe and slippers even to the beach, though he seemed to be trying his best to stay off of the sand.
The last member of the party was currently absent, but Natalia figured that he was busy hiding from all of the women on the beach. Sometimes, she supposed, it was tough being him—especially having to hide away somewhere when it was such a nice day to be at the beach.
Though, she supposed with a guilty pang, she wasn't much better. She was hiding away, claiming to feel ill when she was really just embarrassed to be seen in her swimsuit. Asch had seemed so excited earlier, and here she was ruining it for him.
Asch was watching her again, and she shifted, uncomfortable under his gaze.
"Do you like the beach?" she asked, trying to break the silence that had stretched between them.
He looked away back towards the ocean. "A little," he admitted, carefully avoiding her eyes.
"Really?" she asked, "I do remember that you used to spend a lot of time outdoors. I just can't remember you ever going to the beach."
For a moment, he remained silent, then he looked away, his face coloring slightly. "I-I…just felt like going to the beach today. That's all."
"I didn't even know you owned a swimsuit," she said, glancing over at him.
"These old things?" he asked, tugging on one leg of his swim trunks. "I've had them for ages."
For a minute, she had the absurd notion of asking him if he had ever ended up fighting in his swimsuit, but she bit back the question. Of course he'd never do anything so silly. He was the kind of person who, unlike her, was always prepared. He would never be caught off guard.
It was the one time she had decided to do laundry. After traveling in the same clothes for nearly a week, she had had enough. Her clothes had been soaked in sweat and covered in so much blood and gore from all the battles that she couldn't help feeling like a walking buffet for all the flies and carrion birds in the area.
How had her clothes gotten so dirty in the first place? She was an archer for Lorelei's sake! She stayed out of the melee, away from all the carnage. So how on Auldrant…?
But there was no point in thinking about that. Somewhere along the line it had happened, and she was getting tired of wearing such filthy clothes. That evening when the group had set up camp, she had slipped off to the nearby river to bathe and wash her clothes. She had taken care of the clothes first and set them to dry while she bathed. When she finished, however, she discovered to her dismay that her outfit had not dried yet so she had changed into the only other thing she'd had available—her swimsuit. She hesitated for a moment before wrapping herself in her towel—much like now—and heading back to camp. Everyone had stared at first—everyone but the Colonel who had seemed vaguely amused at her predicament. She had tried to explain but never got the chance.
A wandering pack of wolves had, apparently, been drawn in by the alluring scent of Anise's Beef Curry and had decided to attack the six hungry people who had already laid claim to it. Of course. Of all times it had to happen then.
Needless to say, modesty was the least of her worries at the moment. She had dropped the towel and exchanged it for a bow. The battle had ended as quickly as it had begun—the monsters being no match for the well-trained group. It was when the battle had ended that the trouble began.
Everyone had simply stared for a moment. Luke was biting back laughter. Tear and Guy seemed to have been stunned speechless by the sheer absurdity of the situation, and Anise was so shocked at the sight that she had nearly fallen off Tokunaga. Jade, on the other hand, seemed to, once again, be amused at her expense.
She had looked away scanning desperately for her towel. Sure, she may have been wearing her swimsuit, but, when one thought about it, wearing it was almost as bad as being naked—almost. Still the stares were bothering her.
"What?!" she had demanded of Luke who, by then, had burst out laughing.
"Y-you're wearing that thing in public?" he had gasped in between fits of laughter.
She had blushed several shades. "S-so what? It's the only clean clothing I had."
"But still," Guy said, face coloring slightly, "Natalia, you're a princess. Aren't you embarrassed to be showing so much skin?"
"Y-yes, I am!" she had agreed, pulling her bow closer as though she could hide behind it. "But I was forced into wearing this today!"
"Oh really?" Jade had drawled, hiding his face behind his hand.
Anise sighed and shrugged. "Asch would cry if he knew."
"No," Guy had laughed, "he'd probably like it."
Her blush had deepened. "Hey!" she had protested, "please don't say bad things about Asch!"
"If you're that upset about it," Guy had replied, "change clothes already!"
She had then glanced back at her outfit which was still not dry as though sheer will-power would make it dry faster. "I wish I could," she had muttered under her breath.
Needless to say, since then she always made certain to have several changes of clothes with her just so she could avoid ever having to wear the dreaded swimsuit again. Unfortunately, things just didn't go her way today.
But still, she wasn't about to pass up a chance to actually spend time with Asch just because of a stupid piece of cloth. A very stupid, very small piece of cloth that she was now forced to wear. She drew the towel tighter about her, eliciting another concerned glance from Asch.
"You're sure you're okay?" he asked again, a slight frown crossing his features.
She nodded, trying to seem a bit more enthusiastic. "Yes. I'm fine," she repeated.
Twin wrinkles appeared between his eyebrows. "Is it about the swimsuit?" he asked after a long moment of silence.
"W-what makes you think that?" she asked him, trying to hide the anxiety building in her voice.
He looked at her, but said nothing further.
Silently she thanked him for letting the subject drop because, even if he didn't know it, he was right. It was about the swimsuit. Not that she was worried about how she looked in it—(even if she looked utterly ridiculous, Asch would probably still tell her that she looked good)—it was just that, if he saw the suit and by some chance found out that it was a gift from Emperor Peony…well, let's just say that she feared there would be some sort of international incident. And she really didn't feel like depriving Malkuth of its—unique ruler, even if he had been responsible for designing this monstrosity.
"It's nice out today," Asch commented, breaking her train of thought.
"Y-yes," she agreed as she watched Luke who was still chasing Anise across the beach. "It's a wonderful day to visit the beach."
To her surprise, he flopped onto his back and stretched rather leisurely beneath the umbrella which shaded them both.
"I take back what I said earlier," he said suddenly, "I rather like beaches."
"Why?" she asked, surprised.
He shrugged. "Not sure."
"There must be a reason."
He turned to her, locking his vibrant eyes with hers. "Why do you say that?"
Another chill tickled her shoulders, but this one was far more pleasant than the last. "Because there's a reason for everything," she answered quite sensibly.
"Like how there's a reason why you're clutching that towel like it's a life-line?" he asked, the corners of his lips turning upwards slightly.
She blushed. "Like how there's a reason why you're in such a good mood today?" she asked, not rising to his challenge.
For the briefest of moments a frown crossed his face, but he turned away quickly, trying to hide it. "Is there…something wrong if I enjoy myself once in a while?" he asked, bitterness tingeing his tone.
Instinctively, she reached out and placed her hand on his head and wound her fingers through his long crimson hair. "I didn't mean it that way," she said quietly. "It's just that you're usually so…well…" she struggled to find a word, "angry all the time."
The frown returned, and this time he didn't bother to hide it. "I've got a lot of things to be angry about Natalia," he said, brushing her hand away and pushing himself into a sitting position. "So don't blame me for it."
"I'm not blaming you!" she said, taking hold of his arm with her free hand, "I just—!" She fell silent for a moment. "Would it sound weird if I said that I wanted you to be happier?"
"Yes," he said, his expression honest. "But, I understand what you mean," he continued, "though I'm not sure I can be…happier, as you put it."
Fear began to turn painfully in her gut. "What…do you mean?"
He looked away, off into the distance. "What I want," he said at last, "the only thing that could make me happy at this point is forever out of my reach."
"Not it's not!" The words were instinctive at this point. "Whatever it is…I'm sure you can still obtain it!"
He remained silent for a moment, then, turned to study her face carefully. To her surprise, he chuckled. "It's not a matter of simply 'obtaining' it." Sighing, he turned away again. "I could have it in my hand…and yet I could not be happy. It is something that must be given and cannot be taken by force. And, as things stand now…I am unlikely to receive it."
She watched him, uncertain of what to say.
"And so," he continued, his voice barely louder than a whisper, "I seriously doubt I can become happy."
The words hung ominously in the silence that stretched between them. She was desperate to say something. She wanted to reach out to him—to bridge the gap that had formed between them because of her mistake—but she could not find the words. In the end, she did the only thing she could think of: she let the towel fall and reached out to him, wrapping his arm in both of hers and leaning against him.
"Whatever it is," she murmured, resting her head on his shoulder, "I hope you find it."
She waited several anxious moments for his response. When he said nothing, she pulled back slightly so that she could get a better look at his face. To her surprise, he was simply staring at her, dumbfounded, a slight blush painted across his face.
"Natalia," he asked, still staring, "…what are you wearing?"
It took her a moment to understand what he was asking. She glanced down at her clothes, half-expecting to still see the cheagle-print towel she had been using to cover herself, only for her gaze to be met by the strips of cloth that made up her top and a gratuitous amount of flesh.
She nearly screamed, and, letting go of Asch's arm, stood and turned away, trying to hide from him.
"Where'd my towel go?!" she asked, half-frantic. She looked around for it, spotting it near her feet. She reached down for it, but Asch was quicker, pulling it just out of her reach.
"W-what are you doing?!" she all but wailed. "Give it back!"
He shook his head and smiled, seemingly amused by her situation. "Why do you want it?" he asked, pulling it away again when she lunged for it.
She stared helplessly at him, unable to even explain herself. "J-just please…give it back!"
She lunged for the towel again, but he swung it behind him. She mis-stepped and ended up crashing into him. When she tried to step away, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him.
It was such an unexpected gesture from him that, for a moment, she completely forgot about her towel, and all she could do was simply stare at him speechlessly.
"You don't have to worry about the suit," he said, stepping back after a long moment.
"I-I don't?" she stammered.
He looked away again, face coloring slightly. "Yeah," he said at last, "you look…good in it."
She stared at him. "Y-you…mean it?"
"Yeah," he said.
She glanced away towards the ground to hide the blush that burned on her face, looking back towards him when he mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "Guy was right".
"What was that?" she asked, arching a suspicious eyebrow.
For the first time ever, Asch looked worried. "N-nothing," he said, holding his hands up defensively. "I was just wondering…where you got the suit, that's all."
She studied him for a long moment, knowing full well that was not what he had said and made a mental note to sick Anise on Guy later for telling Asch about the swimsuit. For the moment, however, she was rather busy trying to come up with an answer that wouldn't cause a certain carefree Emperor to suffer an untimely death.
She turned her back to Asch, hoping that he would think she wasn't answering because she suspected what he might have said when a sudden shout rang out and something barreled into her, knocking her off balance and straight into the arms of a very surprised Asch. They both tumbled to the ground along with whatever it was that had knocked her over. It took several moments for the world to stop spinning but when it did, she opened her eyes and nearly screamed.
It was only later that she would find out from Tear exactly what had happened. Apparently, Guy had emerged, unsuspecting from…wherever he had been hiding and had headed for the drink stand, thinking it was safe to do so, when Anise had dashed past him with Luke hot on her heels. Upon seeing his friend, Luke had stopped to enlist Guy's aid in recovering the towel that Anise had stolen earlier. At first, Guy had said that he would stay at the drink stand, but the Colonel had mentioned, off-handedly, that there were several women who had come by earlier looking for him and had said they would be back in several minutes. At this point, Guy had decided that it would be in his best interest to help his friend rather than wait for the women to return. And so, he had joined in Luke's pursuit of Anise, at least until she had turned on him, threatening to hug him. At that point the tables had turned. It ended up being that Luke was chasing Anise who was chasing Guy who was running away from the girl in sheer terror. Apparently, the trio had run all over the beach until they had reached the area where Asch and Natalia had been standing just moments before.
For whatever reason, Guy had stopped, and Anise, who hadn't expected him to do that, had barreled straight into him, knocking him off balance. Ordinarily, he would have regained his footing quickly, but Luke ran into the both of them at full speed, knocking Guy into Natalia and Natalia into Asch and causing everyone to fall.
"It was the domino effect mirrored perfectly with people," the Colonel would later say with a smirk.
But right now, Natalia didn't care about any such thing. All she wanted was for everyone to get off of her. Especially Guy whose face had ended up all but buried in her chest. She nudged him off of her with her foot, causing him to fall backwards, this time squashing Anise between him and Luke. Luckily, the small girl managed to extricate herself from between the two swordsmen.
Guy on the other hand seemed to be starting twenty apologies all at once but didn't seem quite coherent enough to finish any of his sentences. At last he managed to say, "I'm SO sorry!" a tinge of terror seeping into his voice as he added a hasty, "It wasn't my fault!" to the end of the statement. He must have received a death glare from Asch who, she noticed was still holding on to her.
"Yeah," Anise said as she dusted herself off. "It was totally Luke's fault."
"No it's not!" the replica sputtered nervously, probably because he was now on the receiving end of the death glare.
"Oh yes it was," said the Colonel who had materialized beside them. "You slammed into Anise who, in turn, fell on Guy, who in turn, fell on the Princess, who, in turn fell on Asch. So, yes, it was your fault."
Luke muttered something under his breath—what it was she could not hear—before turning his attention back to Asch. "Anyway," he said, trying to change the subject and deflect the death glare at the same time, "aren't you ever going to move your hand, Asch?"
"What?" Asch asked from behind her.
All eyes went to the God-General's hand which, during the fall, had snaked its way around her waist and now rested quite comfortably over her left breast and showed no signs whatsoever of moving.
For a long moment, she was too horrified to speak. Then, there was a flurry of apologies and uncoordinated movement and suddenly, Asch was standing several feet away. When she turned to look back at him, she was, for a moment, uncertain where his hair ended and his face began.
His mouth was opening and closing, as though he was trying to speak but no words would come out. All he could do was stare.
"It was an accident, right Asch?" Natalia asked, sensing he needed a way out.
He stared again for another long moment before nodding. "Y-yeah," he said, looking away, "sorry…about that."
"Yeah," Luke said with an impish smile, "it's not like you did it on purpose, right?"
"Of course not, dreck!" Asch shot back, scowling.
"I believe you, Asch," Natalia said quietly. "After all, it's hard to believe that you'd do something like this on purpose."
"Oh, my, my," Jade drawled, his expression thoughtful, "this conversation sounds very familiar."
Everyone stared at him for a moment.
"Oh! That's right!" Luke said, still grinning. "It's just like that time at the spa when Guy felt her up!"
Natalia blushed. Asch stared. Guy paled.
"HE DID WHAT?!"