Anchored

Anchored

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Ocean 3.

A/N: Hinodeh reminded me that this couple was my first actual OTP. I just wanted to relive some memories and write Alphia in my current style.

O O O

Because when it came down to it, she was his anchor. And she didn't have a clue.

He hadn't either, of course. Not at first, anyway. But so much had happened; so much of his life had been turned promptly on its head. He'd been captain of the Black Brigade, at the top of the game, if one could excuse the pun, the most feared and revered man this side of Airyglyph. He'd had an entire legion of men under his command, all aching and twitching and generally bottling their excitement for the taste of battle.

Albel Nox had been great.

But here he was. And here was a place he greatly regretted being.

He may have been disloyal, cowardly, even, but nonetheless, Albel was no fool. He could recognize that the Leingod's group was stronger than he, and he could recognize that without their help, his whole world, his whole planet, would likely crumble.

And he'd never been one to believe in superstitious beliefs, not when the philosophers and seers and all of those crazy mumbo-jumbo workers were always going on about other beings hiding behind the stars, but he'd had no choice. A group of these aliens had just crash-landed on his beloved homeland; what was he supposed to think?

So he trusted what they said to be the truth. He followed their words. He stayed true to his own set of values and principles, but he tried his very best to coexist with them, as well, because without Fayt Leingod and Company, there was no Albel Nox. Survival meant teaming up with a group of extraterrestrials to help hack and slash his way to an end, to the means for an end, and he coped with that as best as possible.

And yet…strong though he was, he'd never quite been able to handle the inner turmoil of battle. All of those scars, the amputation, and permanent mars were just flesh wounds, superficial, at best, but it was what he kept locked inside that festered and boiled and ultimately poisoned him.

He was angry. He was confused, frustrated, feeling helpless, estranged, and alone. And it wasn't that he disliked being alone; oh, no, Albel rather liked being by his lonesome, in normal cases. But it was the fact that he was alone and knew absolutely nothing at the same time that bothered him. Why couldn't these people tell him their war strategies? Why did they hold meetings without him? Why did they talk in hushed tones around him? Why didn't they trust him?

Because he was Albel the Wicked. Simple as that. Because he was a man with a clawed gauntlet for an arm; he was a man that delighted in the taste of battle and felt most at ease when he was fighting. They didn't trust him because he was different from them, because he perhaps didn't quite understand all that they said, because they would try to explain things to him in the beginning and he just wouldn't get it and then they'd get flustered and give up on him.

It wasn't easy. It was all new to him. He'd never seen these flying crafts, these handheld barrels that shot beams of light. Give him a sword and he could cut you in two in under a second, but hand him a so-called "gun" and he'd probably just end up shooting himself in the foot.

At least, though, he wasn't alone in this exasperating ignorance. Leingod and his little woman friend, too, the brunette, had come from a foreign planet. They, too, were not wholly adapted to these new technologies. Although their civilization was far more advanced than his, as far as he had gathered, anyway, they had struggled with similar difficulties of understanding.

Actually, Fayt had known a great deal when he'd first met with Albel. Fayt had been given ample time to adjust and adapt accordingly, but his friend… She had suffered the same perplexing fate as Albel.

She--that woman--had asked his name once, and he'd ended up scaring her off. Normally this would be fine by him, because she was annoying and far too weak, in all respects, for him to enjoy her company, but they were bonded by something unconscious. Now they were the aliens. They were the strangers in this odd, superior world, stumbling blindly through the dark toward understanding and trying as best as they could not to stub their toes on the way.

So he admitted it. He felt a connection with her. If not for her being largely quiet, except in battle, where she squealed like a stuck pig, then for the simple fact that she was just as uninformed as he.

She was never invited to any meetings, either.

It was then, when all others were busily chatting away about plans, hopes, dreams, expectations, and the like, going over maps and plotting courses, doing the things that Albel knew how to do because he was a captain, damn it, and he'd been raised on this short of shit, those hopeless, good-for-nothing maggots, that he spoke most with her. Sophia.

"Hey…what's your name?" she'd asked at one time, half in the process of pouring herself a glass of water. "I never got the chance to ask."

He hadn't answered for a long, long time, and he hadn't even acknowledged her, either. Why should he have? She was nothing to him. She needn't not know his name, and he could care less what hers was.

But, when she was just about to make the trek back to her room, he'd said, "Albel," under his breath.

And she'd somehow caught that, because she'd turned to him and smiled. "I'm Sophia Esteed. I was--am--Fayt's friend." She'd sat down at the table, sitting across from him and keeping that sickening smile façade up, full-blast. But it had turned bitter when he hadn't attempted to strike conversation. "They don't invite you to their little parties either, do they?"

He'd scoffed, folded his arms, and glared in the general direction of the nearest window. "They don't feel the need to. And I don't feel the need to attend them."

"Well…I always thought I'd like to." She'd traced circles on the tabletop with her index finger absently, the smile falling away completely. "I guess they just don't think I'm much of a help." And it was true. Sophia rarely ever went into battle, and when she did, it was only to replace Maria. Sophia was unnecessary, a burden, and Albel could see why.

Albel, on the other hand, was in every battle. He may not have known anything about what they were doing, but the knowledge of who his target was and that they wanted said target dead was enough for him.

When a long, uncomfortable silence had stretched between them, she'd sighed softly and stood, returning to her quarters. And Albel had been left blissfully alone.

So it continued like that for months, the other party members holding inclusive, often impromptu gatherings, purposefully leaving out Albel and Sophia and locking the doors behind them. Sophia would try in the most valiant of efforts to talk to Albel, but it was only when Fayt began to take her places with him in order to heal, provide support, and throw items to him, that Albel would really consider Sophia as anything more than an obnoxious child.

Sure, she was still an obnoxious child, but now she was an obnoxious child with a purpose. He'd even asked her about the Leingod boy. Once.

…Sort of.

"I dearly, dearly pray that Leingod rots in only the most scorching of Hell's fires."

So it wasn't really a question, and it wasn't really directed at anyone, and he'd said it out of spite, because damn it if Fayt hadn't given the last blueberries to Maria when he needed them more, but Sophia had laughed and answered him anyway.

"Fayt doesn't think too much before he acts." She'd moved to heal him, but he'd jerked away from her, slinking back into a corner of the room and trying his hardest to blend with the shadows. He'd be damned if he let someone like her touch him. She'd retreated calmly to a chair, smiling in a nostalgic manner. "He's always been like that. Even when we lived on Earth, he was the smartest kid I knew, but he wasn't too well-off when it came to solving logic problems. He could split an atom, but he'd lose his own head if it wasn't attached by the neck."

She'd proceeded to tell him of their lives on this "Earth," the early years and on, and even when Albel had quietly left her in favor of sitting alone in his room, somewhere around the time she started explaining the intricacies of Fayt's delicate childhood, he could still hear her jabbering away from his bed, her voice carrying into his room from the nearby kitchen. She had to know that he wasn't in there any longer. She'd watched him leave. She was pretending that someone was listening.

And that was when the loneliness, the mental degradation, and the utter mania of his mind really set in. There were dozens of people around him every day, but he was still so alone--so very, very alone, and he felt it in the deepest parts of his chest. It was a dull ache that rocked his ribcage, shuddered up his spine, and settled with a heavy unfamiliarity over his skull. It was a kill.

"Not that it's any of my business," she'd say when they happened to pass in the hall, "but what is it about me that makes people--you in particular--not want to talk to me? Do I stink? Man, I hope I don't have halitosis or anything."

He didn't know what the hell halitosis was, but he was pretty sure she didn't have it. She didn't stink at all. She smelled like sterilized physician's utensils and sometimes like that standard-issue conditioner that everyone used. Rubbing alcohol with a hint of metal and the barest dash of lilac. It was all quite endearing, if he closed his eyes and pretended not to hear her, because that voice… That voice alone could drive him into madness.

Yet the voice bothered him less and less, and the longer he looked at her, the more he really studied her, traced the curve of her cheeks with his gaze, followed every soft line of her body with just small glances, the more he realized that she was…attractive. Of course, she never knew he was looking at her. For all she knew, he hated her, and for all he knew, he did. He hated all of these damn aliens.

And the first great milestone came when he allowed her to touch him. He was on the brink of death, he knew it, he could taste it, smell it, hear it, feel it deep within his bones, and with every available member either severely incapacitated or thoroughly exhausted, it was up to the underdog to step up. And so Sophia had.

Her touch was feather-light, though, barely skimming over his injuries when she healed him with that insane Symbology, another thing he'd never understand. He really had too many enigmas on his plate.

He was right as rain in no time, and he didn't have to thank her. He'd locked eyes with her when he sat up, dark, swimming green meeting a predatory, calculating sort of crimson. She hadn't broken the staring contest, not for a second, not even when the rush of air as someone walked past ruffled both their bangs into their eyes. And she'd earned points for this, especially so when she just nodded to him and walked out.

And so, though the race was far from over, and though he'd barely been able to jump over the rock of social ineptitude, Albel had found an anchor. She tied him down to reality and she didn't even know it; hell, he hadn't even known it. She made him feel less pushed out, she made him think, and she often would catch his stare again and just hold it until either decided to walk away.

He'd never speak with her again after this whole "Save the universe!" debacle; this he knew. But there was nothing saying that he couldn't attempt to make the best of his time possible, even if it meant just knowing somewhere inside him that he wasn't solitary in his lack of this new world's common knowledge. He was somehow content with just the thought that someone acknowledged him, someone grounded him, someone was suffering from the same afflictions as he.

He found that having an anchor was quite a soothing, reassuring state of affairs.

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