Disclaimer: By now, I think we've established this. Star Ocean isn't mine.
Some may be wondering, this isn't a new chapter. What's the deal? I rewrote Ch. 25 and split it into two.
Fayt felt at peace as the wind sighed in the leaves, stirring the green sprites into a lackadaisical dance. Many places on Elicoor II were calming, but the gardens of Aquios, when he was allowed solitude, were beautiful. Alone with Albel, they were breathtaking.
A rough caress stroked the nape of his neck. He tilted his head back ever so slightly, eyes half-closed, so that he would be even that fraction closer to Albel's uncertain touch. Then he could not take it anymore. He turned full around and placed his lips firm on Albel's own.
That hesitant touch at Fayt's back became an insistent grip; Fayt's waist depended upon the arm around his frame to keep himself standing.
And then there was the awkward breath that separated them. Albel sighed, and pulled away, his gaze escaping Fayt's at the same time.
Anyone else, Fayt thought, and that gesture would have hurt.
Fayt knew he could not expect Albel to inexplicably, instantly leave his scars behind him, just because of his presence. It was a beginning, though, and Fayt knew he was the place from which Albel would begin to heal. That in itself was a strange sort of comfort.
Standing up inside the bridge of the Diplo, Maria hesitated before giving the order to signify Fayt that the skip was ready to take him—and Albel—from Elicoor II. For the first time in years, she was captivated by the ocean of stars that seemed to ebb and flow in the darkness.
"I guess the both of us lost the bet," Sophia said beside her, a charming sadness in her voice. "Neither one of us got Fayt in the end. I suppose that just means… that fate has somebody else in store for us?" Sophia laughed quietly.
Maria grinned. "I suppose so…"
Then she remembered herself. She was still captain of the ship, after all. "Incantatrix," she called out. "This is the last chance for you and your companions. Are all of you perfectly sure that you don't want to go back to 4D space now?"
The Incantatrix just laughed. "And leave all of you with the Justice and the Engineer, without anyone to advise you when you have no idea what's going on? Hardly," she replied. "You forget that Lover and Lightseeker, Tamer, and I feel personally responsible for the well-being of your dimension."
Maria smiled gratefully. "Well, then you'll have to excuse a few little detours on our part. When the Justice attacked Moonbase, a large group of Vendeeni were among the victims. The question of what they were trying to do on Moonbase is what troubles me," she commented.
And then her next words were addressed to the bridge. "All right, I guess we're ready to pick up the last two members of our crew," she said with a calming sigh. Even if she ever came to terms with Fayt's final decision, she would still need peace of mind to handle Albel aboard.
Still on Elicoor II, Albel threw his head back to take in the clear skies. "Fayt, they did claim they would show up sometime today, right?"
Of course, Albel would always be Albel. And for that, Fayt was glad. It was, after all, Albel's confrontational and smirking personality that had paradoxically drawn in Fayt's attentions.
"You've finished up everything, then?" Fayt asked. Even though he felt fairly sure that Albel would have wasted no time in the matter. "No offense, but Helgrave seems more suited towards political bureaucracy than you do. And you did say you felt sure that Lieutenant Jarvis would make a good captain of the Black Brigade."
"Jarvis has always been loyal. The Black Brigade would do well to grow under new leadership," Albel admitted.
"You know that the King and Lady Elena are getting married after all?" Fayt said. "The Tamer didn't want to stay in Aquaria after she remembered everything—no surprises there."
"There's little place in this world for a warrior," Albel sighed. "And no accommodation for blood in peacetime. Luckily, it seems that this Justice is intent on providing a target for my blade. And don't think I've forgotten the Engineer's trespasses between us."
"But not anymore," Fayt murmured softly, a breath that he had intended for himself. Or perhaps he had meant it for Albel. He could no longer distinguish the difference between the two concepts.
He crossed his arms and leaned against the breast-high wooden railing. Below his feet, water kept to its trim course, moving in time as the waters before it had, and moving swiftly with the hope that the stream would be unobstructed. Even if it was, though, water always had a way of returning to its path.
He felt Albel's arms encircle his waist from behind, felt the gentle hush of Albel's hair pressed against his cheek. "What are you staring at, Fayt?" Albel whispered simply, with no pretension.
"Just the water. I was just thinking," Fayt said musingly.
"What about?" Albel wanted to know.
"About you," Fayt answered.
Albel chuckled against Fayt's cheek. "No need, Fayt, I'm right here…" And his lips passed to Fayt's throat, brushing them teasingly against him. "And besides. You owe me, Fayt. You saw plenty of my world… now it's my turn to explore yours."