Disclaimer: For a thousand times, and a million more, I do not own any of the characters, nor do I own Star Ocean III.
Note: And here comes the tenth and final installment of Dirty Secrets. Thank you all!
It was still the dead of night when Sophia woke up, sweating profusely, trembling like she was laying naked in a snowstorm. Her terrors of what had happened to her in the past refused to leave her behind, and Sophia knew that she could not fight back against hallucinations.
Sophia wrapped the blanket around herself more securely, despite how hot she was underneath, her eyes wide open. She did not have many options if she wanted to live in peace. She was lost, unfounded, and not going to be found soon. Going back to Earth was like setting herself up for an appointment with the Vendeeni for tests, and Sophia knew that she could not stay with Fayt and the others any longer. After all, she had tried to kill them, under the influence of Biwig's hallucination or not. She knew that even though the others were quick to forgive her, there would always be a shadow of a doubt. The damage was done, and nothing could undo it.
Sophia's breathing grew labored under the thick blankets huddled against her, tears forming slowly in her closed eyes. It was not so much as self-pity that caused such heavy grievance in her heart, but the fact that she had planned to eliminate the others, all the while the cause of it being her unconditional and unrecognized love for Fayt. However, she was not so sure of that now. Fayt was neither friend nor lover to her. He acknowledged her no more than a childhood possession he was reluctant to share and let go of. Besides, Sophia herself finally came to the conclusion that Fayt was no longer, after all these years, her object of desire. A cold face came to her mind, and Sophia felt her burdens lifting, her checks becoming warm.
"Albel," she whispered in the dark, lovingly, secretly, and with strong, confident finality.
Diverted out of her thoughts of terror, Sophia threw the blankets off of her body, feeling pleasantly chilled at once. She did not know where she was planning to go, but she knew she had to get away. She had caused enough trouble, and she herself being a trouble magnet, did not help at all. Sophia did not even manage to drop a foot on the floor when—
"Where do you think you're going?"
Albel! Sophia's head shot up, her eyes trying to find the owner of the voice in the dark.
"I'm over here, fool," a lazy drawl breathed into her neck.
Jumping and twisting comically in surprise, Sophia fell, bottom-first and ungracefully, onto the floor. "Owwie…" she sniffed, pitifully.
Albel peered down at her from the other side of the bed, a small and almost undetectable grin present on his face. "Are you always that graceful, or were you putting on a show?" he asked icily, making fun of her current situation. Accidentally, his eyes glided downward, and his breath hitched in his throat.
She was dressed in her short, flimsy night attire, and pink cats, Albel noticed, danced around the cloth. Two thin, easily-breakable straps held the dress up on her body, and one of the straps had slipped from her shoulder. The way her body was glistening with sweat did not help Albel's self-control any either. As if Sophia had just spent an hour in the rain, her hair clung to her body, and her night gown was almost see-through from its drenched state. Still, she lay sprawled on the floor, trying to recover from her recent, and indecent, fall. This gave Albel a mighty view of her dark red panties and he found himself staring at her creamy, pale thighs.
She has long legs, Albel thought vaguely.
Feeling herself under heavy scrutiny, Sophia blushed, righted herself, and stood, slightly shaking on her feet. Here she became aware of the swordsman's nighttime attire. He was bare-chested and wore nothing but dark blue slacks, the drawstrings completely loose and untied. Sophia's blush grew and this did not go unnoticed by Albel. Placing a soft hand over her heart, she whispered, "Albel, you scared me!"
Albel scoffed and looked away, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Obviously," he muttered under his breath.
Having heard this, Sophia bit her lip and pressed on, "But Albel, why are you in my room?"
And Albel looked at her for a long time, as if trying to send his words from his eyes.
When Sophia said nothing, understood nothing, Albel gave a careless half-shrug. "Someone had to stand guard over you, fool. After all, who knows what you might be capable of at night?"
As soon as the words left his lips, Albel immediately regretted it. He saw the pain and the regret shadow her eyes and knew that she had taken his words the wrong way. He waited, wanting to take the words back, but couldn't.
"I…I'm sorry," Sophia whispered, "I really am." And at the last word, she broke down, burying her face in her hands, sobbing. "I'm so sorry, Albel. I'm so sorry."
He did not know what possessed him. In later years, he would tell her that it was because he loved her, and could not stand to see her so upset. But in truth, as he walked around the bed towards her, arm outstretched, he did not have a single coherent thought in his mind.
Ever-so-gently, he placed his hand on the back of her head and pushed her roughly into his chest. "You really are stupid," he whispered, almost fondly.
Shocked as she was, Sophia found that she could not move, and so she did the only thing she could, and sobbed pathetically on Albel's strong, bare chest. Even though she was grateful to Albel for comforting her, the swordsman had different, wandering thoughts.
Albel gritted his teeth painfully, as he tried not to let his hands wander downwards from its current position around her waist. Her sticky chest and drenched-with-sweat body pressed tightly against his body mocked him completely. 'Am I trying to TORTURE myself?' Albel thought angrily. But as Sophia's sobs quieted to silence, Albel realized for the first time just how fragile the girl really was.
The room suddenly seemed too quiet to both of them and the air grew awkward. However, with almost a satisfied pleasure, Albel noted how Sophia failed to pull away from him. Neither knew how long they stood there in each other's embrace, Albel unconsciously stroking Sophia's damp hair, and she softly tracing the many long scars that ran along his stomach.
"Albel," Sophia began, softly, as if in a trance, "what are you doing in my room?"
The swordsman sighed wearily. "I thought I answered that already."
"I don't believe you."
He pulled away slightly to look into her wide, slightly puffy, chocolate brown eyes. He opened his mouth, but closed it again, as if having second thoughts.
"Wench, does it really matter?" he snapped, angry at both himself for not being able to tell the truth and at the girl for asking so many damn questions.
"To me, yes."
He growled suddenly, threateningly, not at her response, but upon finding that he, once again, could not summon the words out of his mouth.
Surprised, Sophia jumped back, but before she could even blink, she found herself pulled back into Albel's arms. He held her tightly, as if telling her he didn't want to let her go. Then he buried his face into her hair, his hands on her shoulders, his thumbs hooking the straps of her night dress. Very carefully, he slid them down her arms, so that her chest was exposed. Sophia gasped but made no move to stop him as he trailed kisses down her neck all the way to the valley between her breasts.
"You want to know why?" Albel whispered dangerously against her wet skin, his crimson eyes flashing in the darkness, "Do you want to know why I am in your room?"
And moaning softly, Sophia succumbed to him. "Yes," she gasped, her hands roaming in his hair, "Tell me."
He rid her of her night dress and pulled her close to him, "Because I wanted to watch over you," Albel breathed against her ear, "I wanted to touch you, I wanted to talk to you, I wanted to do many, many things." He gave her a wet lick in the ear as he slowly pulled down her dark red panties.
And they found themselves approximately two hours later on the bed, and in complete state of undress, when Sophia asked, breathless, and on the verge of sleep, "But Albel, what did you want to do the most when you came in here?"
He looked at her through half-lidded eyes, his crimson eyes twinkling almost softly at the sight of her. He was silent for a long time, and Sophia was sure that she was not going to get an answer, when he responded. "There was something I wanted to tell you."
Sophia waited, fighting exhaustion, and looking at him with as much innocence as she had just hours ago.
"I knew… I knew what you were planning to do," Albel confessed, wrapping his arms securely around her. "I knew you were going to decide to run away."
Sophia's eyes widened, but she stayed silent, encouraging him to go on.
"Obviously I didn't expect this," he continued softly, smirking when she blushed, "but I wanted to give you an offer."
Unable to resist, Sophia asked, "An offer?"
"If you wanted to run away…" he trailed off, yawning, knowing she was getting impatient.
"Albel!" Sophia cried, gently smacking him on the chest, "what? If I wanted to run away?"
He turned to her then, his red eyes so serious that Sophia blushed uncontrollably. "If you wanted to run away," he continued, "I wanted to offer you my companionship."
Sophia blinked. What?
"If you wanted to run away, I just wanted to say that I'll go with you. Anywhere, everywhere. I'll protect you. I won't let anyone hurt you. I'm not going to leave you... especially now," and despite how serious he was, Albel smirked.
Sophia felt tears well up in her eyes, and soon, they were streaming down her cheeks. "But why? How did this happen?"
Albel gave her a soft kiss on her temple, kissing away her tears. "I believe you started it."
And Sophia remembered the time she had first kissed him, her surprise-attack in order to escape from his interrogation.
Her love for Albel was not unrequited after all. "I love you Albel," she whispered, her voice filled with emotion and truth.
And Albel, for all he showed himself to be, found that his heart reached out to this girl, this Sophia, whom he had just given all himself to. His crimson eyes began to blur for the first time in a long while, and not from pain.
"Go to sleep. We'll leave in a few hours."
Shocked, Sophia started up, "But Albel… The Creator…"
"They can handle it themselves," he snapped, and it was true, for Fayt, Cliff, and Nel usually dominated every battle. "Go to sleep."
And so Sophia slept, snuggling closer to her newfound strength.
It has been three weeks and the group finally felt it necessary to give up on the couple's return. They had successfully beaten the Creator, and were celebrating their victory.
"Fayt…" Maria stepped closer to the blue-haired boy who was still clutching the note that his Sophia had left behind, and dutifully sulking in the corner. "Fayt, come and join us. We're pretty sure that Albel will not harm Sophia in any way."
"AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?" Fayt exploded in his fury, directing many heads toward him.
"Hey, man, don't be a party pooper," Clift yelled from across the room.
"Here Fayt, have some peanuts," Mirage chimed in gently.
"I'LL ROAST HIS PEANUTS!"
But no one paid him any attention, save for Maria, who consoled him gently with sweet words.
Of course, many years later, they all had quite an unexpected reunion, the site being the chapel of Peterny, where Fayt was in the middle of forever taking Maria as his wedded wife, when the happy couple unknowingly burst through the chapel doors.
And in time, Sophia's terrors and haunted dreams of her past faded away to be replaced with sweet memories of her beloved. Her hallucinations faded away completely and one day, after another heated night of pleasure with her Albel, she realized something.
She had died a long time ago. The day she had been unwillingly separated from her mother many years ago, when she blew up, and Sophia, a child, helpless, could do nothing but look. She had died when her mother had died.
But now, she looked at her husband, sleeping with a gentle look on his face, one that only she had the honor to see every night, and then towards the door of their room, as if able to see through the thick wood, where, on the other side of the hallway to the other room, lay their two sweet children.
She had risen from her grave, and Sophia smiled, tears in her eyes.
She was now reborn. Forever, as Sophia Esteed Nox.
Note: Thank you to all my reviewers!