Chapter Twenty-Four

Happy Ending

Fayt fiddled self-consciously with the plain gold band on his finger. The wedding band. He had worn it for almost five years now. Fayt hadn't seen Albel in five years, and Cliff in over two. It had been a long time.

He had run into the blonde quite by accident at a space port three years ago, the last time he had seen him. Things had been a little awkward and quiet between them. Neither had heard from Albel at the time. Cliff had mentioned that Albel had actually sent him a message once… but that had been months before their encounter at the spaceport. Fayt had asked to see it. Cliff had only looked away and changed the subject. Fayt supposed that it had been none of his business anyway.

The taxi landed. Fayt got out and began the time-consuming trek to Airyglyph. The land around Airyglyph wasn't flat enough to cultivate, let alone land the cab, so they had dropped him off near Arias. He dropped by the mansion, hoping to find Clair or Nel, but neither were around. With a sigh, he merely continued his journey. He had to see Albel first and foremost-even if Albel lived up to his threat and killed him. He just had to see him. It had been bothering him for years, and now he finally had time, so here he was.

He didn't know where Albel might be exactly—and Albel checked his communicator messages once a year at most anyway, and never responded to anything Fayt wrote him at that. Fayt sighed quietly. If it weren't for Cliff, he wouldn't even know if Albel had thrown it away. Fayt had chatted with Cliff briefly over their communicators, and the Klausian had affirmed that Albel had sent him a message as recently as two years ago. Didn't mean much, but it was something.

Talking with Cliff these days was awkward, more than it should be. Something always hung between them. The best way to put it would be like two people standing in a room talking to each other with a grand piano attached to the ceiling, and if the piano were mentioned or even looked at, it would fall on them. It made carrying on any conversation difficult in the extreme. Other times it was less like something hanging in the air and more like standing at the edge of a chasm where he could barely see his ex-lover beyond. It was such a shame that things had turned out this way; they had been so close before.

The walk from Arias to Kirlsa was a lot longer than he remembered. He had started working out more since he came back home, spurred by how weak he was when he had first been marooned on Vanguard. All the same, the walk seemed longer. Or perhaps—more lonely? He had never made this walk alone before. He had also never seen Airyglyph at this time of year. It was late spring, so the snow should be gone. It was still quiet—spring, but with the air of winter. Airyglyph didn't have the abundant life that Aquaria did.

He came to Kirlsa and decided to check Woltar's mansion. Would the old man even still be alive? The guards didn't recognize him. They had no reason to. The last time he had been here was over five years ago. Hell, he was twenty-five years old now. With a sinking feeling, he realized that that meant Albel would be over thirty, and Cliff was near forty. He let out a low whistle at that and explained to the guards who he was. They immediately let him pass. He thanked them and continued on to the mansion.

He inquired as to Woltar's whereabouts. He was apparently still alive, but now retired from the Brigade, and for that matter, was upstairs. Something about heart problems for the reason of retirement. We're all getting older

He wondered if Cliff and Albel looked any different. Somehow, he couldn't picture either of them getting old. Particularly not someone as stubborn as Albel. He was the type to defy even time.

Woltar's study door was closed. Fayt knocked politely and after receiving an affirmative to enter, he did. He was indeed getting older and more mature.

The count peered at him closely, then his eyebrows raised in surprise. "Fayt? Fayt Leingod?"

Fayt smiled. "Yeah."

"Sit down, boy," he said, shoving some papers to the side. "What brings you all the way back here?"

Fayt sat down across from him. He glanced briefly out the window. "Albel, actually," he admitted. "He told me not to come back or he'd kill me. But I wanted to talk to him."

Woltar's face fell. "Oh…"

Fayt's heart hammered. Woltar wouldn't make such a face if something wasn't wrong. He knew that expression. It always came before bad news. The doctor had made that same expression when…

His fingers curled around the lacquered armrests. "What?" he said. It came out as a plead, and more high-pitched than he had intended. He cleared his throat and tried again. "What?" That sounded better.

Woltar glanced away. He let out a long, sad sigh that carried the weight of the words he was about to say. "Albel disappeared some two years or so ago."

Fayt stared at him disbelieving. "No…" he whispered. He couldn't believe him. Albel—disappear? To where? What happened? Suddenly, the look Cliff had on his face at the space port made sense. Albel had told Cliff something—probably something relating to his disappearance. Maybe requested that Cliff not say anything about it. Or perhaps Cliff didn't wish to. But Cliff knew something. "'Disappeared'?" he choked out.

Woltar looked at Fayt with pity in his eyes. "He never told me where he was going, only that he was leaving and would be back when he could return."

Fayt felt like he was swimming through chocolate pudding. His head pounded with the implications. But Albel had planned on returning. He had planned on returning!

Woltar opened a drawer on his desk and retrieved an old key. He set it down on the desk in front of Fayt. He tapped on the key. "Albel gave me this fore safekeeping when he left. It's the key to his room and office at the Training Facility."

Fayt began to reach for it, then hesitated. There might be a clue there. Something—anything. He picked up the key. "I'll bring this back," Fayt assured him. He rose and began to leave. He turned around back to Woltar. "Thank you." He was already out the door by the time Woltar had said "you're welcome."

He forced himself to walk all the way to the Training Facility. Running wouldn't make Albel magically appear. It would be the same inside whether he ran or walked, so he walked. He couldn't help but speed up a little when he saw the building though. He had thought it was so sinister the first time he had seen it. Now… now it represented a shred of hope. Perhaps there would be some kind of clue inside. He hoped so. He really hoped so.

Fayt had forgotten how big the place was and quickly got lost, unable to find the room. He asked for directions from a member of the staff and still couldn't find it. He asked another girl and she giggled and led him to the room.

"No one's been in it for since Sir Albel left," she confided to him. "There's only the one key, you see, so we can't even get in to clean."

"Why don't you just break the door down?" Fayt muttered darkly. "He's been gone for years. The odds of him coming back are pretty low."
The poor girl looked mortified and near-tears. She must have been about fifteen years old. "You mustn't say that," she cried. "Sir Albel will come back!"

Fayt blinked in surprise, wishing he could have her vindication. Maybe he would have when he was her age. But not any more. As he aged, he had slowly become a little less naïve and a little more cynical. Time does that to a person. "But… surely you appointed someone else as Captain of the Black Brigade…? I mean, he's been gone so long that…"

She looked up at him, her big brown eyes welling with tears. "There is someone else now… But… Sir Albel will come back… He has to…"

Fayt looked away, sorry he had mentioned it. Honestly, he shared the same sentiment with her. He wanted him to come back too. He glanced back at the girl. She looked familiar somehow… She stopped in front of a door. Trembling, she pointed at the door. "That's it," she said, sniffing back tears.

Fayt was moved to pity. "Look, I'm sorry. I want Albe—Sir Albel to come back too."

She smiled. "Really?"

"Yeah… We're old friends." He blinked. "But why does it mean so much to you?"

She swiped at her eyes a little. "Oh… My… good friend has been so upset since he left." She looked back at Fayt and smiled a little. "Sir Nox was sort of… someone he looked up to, y'know?"

Fayt nodded his understanding. "So Albel was his childhood hero." He sighed, closing his eyes sadly. Albel meant a lot to him too. He just had to know what had happened. He opened his eyes. His eyes widened as he realized who the girl was. She was the girl from Kirlsa, who he had seen outside playing with a boy about her age. The boy, he recalled, had seemed to be kind of a brat at the time as he played, and had idolized the Glyphian captains. She had gotten older too. Things sure did change. He smiled a little to himself. "I'm sure Albel is all right."

"I hope so," she said. "I have to get back to work now, sir…?"
"Fayt Leingod," he answered.

"Fayt… Leingod… Oh!" Her eyes widened. "You're the boy who saved us seven years ago?"
Fayt blushed a little. "Guess so."

She smiled contentedly, as if everything were suddenly all right. "Well, goodbye then." She turned and walked away. Fayt watched her go. "I hope he comes back too," he whispered to himself. He pulled the key from his pocket and put it in the lock. It grated open, the mechanism unused and uncared for. He pushed the door open. The only light was from the hallway, and the rectangle of light came in stark contrast with the darkness of the room and he still couldn't see.

Using the light from his communicator, he found the window and pulled back the ridiculously heavy drapes. Upon letting some light into the room, he discovered that the drapes were actually thick rugs nailed over the windows to keep the light out. He had always sort of known that Albel was eccentric; this only confirmed it. Upon early rising with little sleep, the sun was too cheery and bright: Thus, the heavy rugs that should have been on the floor instead of the wall.

He almost moved the rugs back in place upon seeing how filthy everything was. He found a lamp on a table and after some digging through the dust even found a flint. He hadn't used one in years, but got it to light. He turned up the wick and realized it needed dusting. He used his sleeve to get rid of some of the dust. His sleeve came away filthy. Fayt made a face at his sleeve and looked around the room. This was the office.

There was a desk, a bookcase, some shelving, and a chair. The desk was messy, but it was organized mess—papers stacked in neat piles, but too many of them to be considered "neat." One pile looked ready to collapse. An old pen, a dried out inkwell, and a few other random paraphernalia, including an interestingly shaped paperweight littered the surface area of the desk. The books didn't look to be in any particular order, and the things on the shelves ranged from a knife, to a couple old books, to scrolls, to maps. There was a fireplace on one side, covered in cobwebs.

All of it was covered in a heavy layer of dust. Even the ashes in the fireplace were covered in dust. He had always wondered at how, if a room is undisturbed, dust settles. Like it comes from nowhere in particular, and is only chased away by constant disturbance and use. All in all, it was pretty dreary and dampened Fayt's spirits. The odds of finding anything useful seemed pretty bleak in all this dust.

Maybe he should ask for the cleaning crew. The thought crossed his mind, but he didn't. He opened a couple drawers, not finding anything of interest. He had a hard time picturing Albel sitting at a desk doing paperwork, but there it was. He found some wax for sealing letters, a few candles too. He lit one with the lamp and put it in a dusty candlestick. It helped chase away the gloom, but it helped illuminate the cobwebs in the corners too. He made a face and tried to open the last drawer. It was locked. He sighed deeply. How to open it? He frisked the desk and shelves for a key, but didn't find anything. He picked up the lamp and went past the door to his ex-lover's bedroom.

Fayt immediately tripped over something. He stumbled wildly and caught himself on the doorframe, but he dropped the lamp in the process and the light went out. Cursing, he fumbled for the lamp and brought it back into the office. He relit it and opened the shutter all the way. He stared down at the floor, looking for what he had tripped on. He kneeled down when he saw what it was. An old gauntlet. He touched it, making a mark through the dust. He stepped over it, into the room. He lifted the lamp higher, trying to find the window. He shoved the rugs away from the glass, managing to hook them back on a nail. He sneezed when the dust was disturbed. Sunlight filtered in through the dusty glass, helping to illuminate the room.

Fayt looked around. He had never seen Albel's room, or his office for that matter. Never occurred to him that he might have an office. He supposed that it made sense; he was a captain in their military after all. Still, it seemed odd, even humorous.

The room was pretty bare. There were a couple swords mounted on the wall—typical. There was a small, round table with a knife sitting on it as if it had been placed there because it was convenient at the time rather than anything else. A closet was at the far end. Other than that, nothing much was inside. Fayt opened the door to the closet. It was a small walk-in closet, maybe about a yard deep and a yard across, two bars on each side. Sort of surprising. There were a couple outfits back there, hanging up. He stood on his tiptoes to see anything that might be on the shelving. One box.

Feeling like he was doing something nefarious, he set the lamp down on the floor and grabbed the wooden box. It was fairly well made. Other than that, your average box with hinges. It looked like there used to be a lock on it, but it had since been broken off. He imagined that there must be a story to it. Then, Fayt realized, there was a story to just about everything, wasn't there? In his mind, his imagination came up with a perfectly plausible story. Perhaps Albel lost the key to the lock and needed to get into it, and decided that the most effective way of opening it was to break the lock in question. The idea brought a crooked smile to Fayt's face as he set the box down on the floor.

He wondered what was in the locked drawer as he knelt beside the box. He wondered if it might be the communicator. Communicator!

Fayt immediately stopped what he was doing and grabbed his own communicator. He sent a message to Cliff:

Did you know that Albel disappeared? Tell me what you know.

He set his communicator aside and went back to the box. The lid was stuck a little, but he managed to pry it open. The hinges creaked. A couple personal affects. They didn't mean much to Fayt, but it was only normal. People kept things that meant something to them. The only thing in the box of any interest to Fayt was a small key. Triumphant, he grabbed it and snatched up the lamp. He headed back to the office room and unlocked the drawer, a little triumphantly. He pulled the drawer open. He lifted the lamp to shed some light on the interior. His communicator beeped obnoxiously back in Albel's closet. He scowled, and went back into the closet. He grabbed the communicator. It better be important.

His heart skipped a beat when he saw who it was from: Cliff.

Are you on Elicoor now?

Fayt responded: Yes. Cliff, you know something about Albel.

He left it as a statement instead of a question on purpose. He knew that Cliff knew something; he wasn't going to ask so much as demand. The next reply was a long time in coming. In fact, Fayt had just about given up on a response and had marched back to the drawer. He received another message as he came into the office.

Albel told me that he was going to hunt down the dragon that mutilated his arm and that he might not be back for a long time, or even at all.

That is to say, that he might die in the process. The way it had been put, it seemed like Albel had wanted a long, arduous journey where he might die at the end or even middle of it and had just decided on dragon slaying. Fayt realized that he was shaking. Slowly, he sank into the dusty chair. A plume of dust rose around him. He sneezed and coughed, then sneezed again until the dust settled. He was still shaking. He didn't want Albel to die. Why had he…? He hugged his arms close to himself. Ok. Thanks.

Fayt set his communicator down. His head lowered into his trembling palms. He felt like he was going to be sick. He had never had an opportunity to tell Albel that he was sorry.

Cliff was out the door the second the ship's engines had powered down. He practically ran all the way to Kirlsa. Fayt hadn't responded to any of his messages. He had tried not to let it bother him, but on the second day with no responses, he had dropped everything and rushed to Elicoor. He stopped at Woltar's mansion. The old man told him that Fayt was at the Training Facility. Cliff hurried to the place and had to ask someone where Fayt was. A young girl with brown eyes showed him the way.

Since Fayt had been there, the maids had come in to clean and change the bedding. It was only appropriate, considering that Fayt had been living in the room all this time. Cliff threw the door open. An office. He ran to the next door and rushed through it. Fayt was sitting on the bed, back against the wall, staring at the opposite wall with a blank look on his face.

"Cliff?" Fayt wondered. He tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Why was Cliff here?

"Fayt!" Cliff strode over to him. He gave him a once-over. Kid had sure grown up. He looked like an adult now. He hadn't shaved in a few days and even had some blue stubble. Heh. None of that childlike innocence Fayt had once had was with him anymore though. He had grown up in more ways than one. It was almost a shame.

Fayt looked up at Cliff. The years had been kind to him, but he was Klausian so that was pretty normal. Fayt saw some fine laugh lines forming at the corners of his eyes, some grey speckling his blonde hair. It was the only indication of age though and he wore it well t that. "Cliff… why are you here?"

Cliff sighed deeply, sitting down next to him on the bed. Good to know Fayt wasn't shell-shocked from the whole thing. "You weren't responding to me, and I started to worry." A brief pause. "Pretty stupid, huh?"
Fayt laughed. "Albel would make fun of you."

Both of them fell silent. Neither knew what had happened to their ex-lover. Fayt lifted something from his lap. "I had been hoping Albel would have taken his communicator. He left it here." He dropped it in Cliff's lap. "But I guess I should have expected that."

"Probably," Cliff agreed. He picked it up briefly then set it back down. Fayt had cleaned it, even, it looked like, upgraded it.

Fayt stared up at the ceiling. "I went to the castle—in Airyglyph." He closed his eyes sadly. "In the dungeon. Hasn't changed. That's when Albel joined up with us… remember? And I took a walk in the mountains… By where we left Albel after we fought him… and he and I had sex the first time." Fayt hadn't slept in that entire time. He had been too restless to sleep, too anxious to stop for so long.

"You're worrying too much about him," Cliff assured him. "You're talking about him like he's dead."

Fayt looked away. "For all you or I know, he is." He looked at Cliff. "No one knows what's happened to him."

Cliff scratched his head. "Let's ask Nel."

Fayt almost argued then decided there was no point. It had to be better than sitting here. He followed Cliff glumly back to Kirlsa, then to Arias. They stayed at the inn, in separate beds.

Fayt rolled, watching Cliff's back, remembering a time when it might have been appropriate to go curl up in bed with him. But no more. He touched the wedding band. That had all ended some time ago, and it had been his decision moreover. He rolled back over and closed his eyes, trying to drift back into memories of the three of them tangled together in a bed that wasn't meant to hold three, close together because they wanted to be and because there was no other way to sleep together. Crowded, but comfortable. The bed was too empty even for his imagination and memories. He couldn't remember what Albel smelled like anymore, or the way his hair fell over his body in sleep. Couldn't remember how Cliff's chest had felt against his back, or the way his arms felt around him.

Slowly, a tear at the loss of those memories rolled down his cheek, gravity trailing it across his lips. Automatically, his tongue darted out, licking his lips. He rubbed his face and closed his eyes. He sighed sadly, but didn't cry.

Cliff listened to him toss and turn. Years ago, he might have held him until he settled down peacefully. Alas, it was no longer so. Interesting how circumstances change over time, for better or worse. Which of those was this circumstance? Was it better that they weren't together? Things were less complicated now, that was for sure. Or was it worse? It hurt that they were apart now. He could only say "I don't know." It was very interesting how once they had been close lovers, and now they were merely acquaintances, sleeping awkwardly and fitfully in different beds.

Fayt finally settled in his sleep, rolled onto his stomach, arms partway curling under the pillow. One of his hands slipped out from under it. The fingers curled in a dream, then relaxed.

Once he relaxed, he slept like a contented cat, Cliff mused. Yes, that fit Fayt well. A cute, cuddly-looking kitten, but with hidden claws and teeth. Fayt had been so strong. Maybe he still was. He remembered also, a common housecat caught most everything it hunted for. He certainly had. Maybe he hadn't wanted Cliff at first, but he had "hunted" for him later on. Ah, but then he tossed him aside, losing interest and chasing after Sophia. Like a cat toying with a mouse until someone opens the cat food.

Was it sad that Cliff had thought he had let go completely, but realized that some tiny spark of the lust and love he had carried for him was still there, lost amidst the coals, but existing nevertheless? Fayt had grown up. He didn't look so "cute" any more, not attractive in the way an 18-year old is attractive, but in the way a grown man is attractive. He had almost forgotten some things about Fayt—the way he talked and walked for example, but seeing him refreshed his memory. He wondered what would have became of the three of them if not for Sophia.

Cliff sighed and rolled over. Well, never mind all that.

He wondered what had happened to Albel. Why had he disappeared like this for so long? It was troubling.

He tried to remember the way the swordsman had walked. For several minutes, the images had eluded him, then he remembered. In the murky depths of his memory, he tried to remember the way he spoke, the cadence of his voice, the way the vowels fell. That one was harder, but he found that too. Maybe it had been too long. His memory fogged over his once-excellent recollection of Albel's body. He felt the blood pounding through his veins as the first inkling of panic seeped into his being. He couldn't remember. Sure, he could point him out in a crowd, but what about the way his legs had felt in his hands, the way his back arched, the way his chest heaved when he panted…?

No, don't let that memory be gone. Not that…

But then it floated to him like a lost child's toy amidst the tide. Cliff calmed and breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't gone. He still remembered. Thank gods and goddesses, he still remembered.

Albel had been beautiful in the way a venomous snake was beautiful; lovely to look at, rare to touch, and deadly to stay near.

In the morning, they continued to Peterny, then on to Aquios. Nel was in the palace, just back from a mission. Always busy, her. They were lucky to have caught her.

They talked with her for a while, catching up on things. Nel was still working, taking missions whenever possible, rarely taking breaks even now—she enjoyed her work. Her hair was a little longer than before. Maybe she was growing it out, or just needed a haircut. She looked older, but a healthy lifestyle made her wear her years well.

Fayt asked her about Albel, but it was all the same; no one knew about him.

They could have searched the world for him. He couldn't have gotten too far. But even then, a planet was still a pretty big place to look for one person. … Especially when that one person would probably kill him on sight anyway.

Out of desperation, they even went to the Samnite Steppes and asked Roger. Roger had grown up so much that they didn't even recognize him at first. But Roger had recognized them, for sure. Despite the happy reunion, Roger didn't know anything about Albel's disappearance either, but promised to keep a lookout.

Cliff and Fayt stayed the night in Peterny and went back to Kirlsa in the morning. Cliff offered to take Fayt home. Fayt shook his head. "Just a while longer."

Cliff sighed and walked away. The Klausian was patient. He gave Fayt a week to get over the matter. Fayt still hadn't recovered by the end of the week.

Albel was gone. Probably dead, disappeared without a trace. There were no clues, no leads. Nothing. He was just… gone. Fayt knew it wasn't his fault, but he still felt like he had failed Albel somehow.

He shook his head, as if to clear it. Fine. He had tried. He had done everything he could, and it was all no good.

In the end, he wrote Albel a letter detailing how he had once felt about him, how he felt about him now—that is to say, that he wanted to be friends—and that he was sorry about everything that had happened. He added one more thing at the end, then signed it and left it in the box he had found the key in, inside an envelope with Albel's name on it. He hoped that one day, he would see it.

They boarded Cliff's ship and set coordinates for the nearest station.

"How's Mirage?" Fayt said, trying to fill the empty void of silence with meaningless conversation.

The Klausian considered his answer. He put the ship into gravitic warp once they were clear of Elicoor II. "Mirage seems to be doing well. She took over our master's dojo some time ago."

The silence permeated the ship again. Deep space and silence go together. There was something about the cold vacuum of space that sapped conversation and made the silence seem much deeper than it was. When it got to so thick that it bore down on the two like a heavy mantle, Fayt squirmed uncomfortably, scrambling for something to say. "Have you heard from Maria?"

"Not in a while," he answered bluntly. Fayt waited, but Cliff didn't volunteer any more information than that.

Fayt laced his fingers together. "How was she then?"

"She landed some project job in programming somewhere," he said. "She was dating Lieber last I heard. He finally worked up the courage to ask her out after she announced she was leaving Quark," Cliff said absently.

"Ah," Fayt said. He should have laughed, maybe applauded Lieber. Instead, it was just words and meaningless drivel. "Peppita is still in the circus. She sent me a ticket and I actually got to see her perform a couple years ago."

"Oh."

This conversation was difficult to carry on. Fayt considered giving up. He fell silent once more and remained silent for some time. He broke the silence once by asking Cliff if he wanted any coffee. The answer was no, so Fayt just made himself some. The rest of the trip lapsed into a cold silence that Fayt chose not to break. Cliff was terribly glad; he didn't feel like making conversation right now.

The blonde took Fayt to the nearest space station and Fayt boarded the next flight to Earth. The two looked at each other, one last time. Fayt looked up at Cliff, so much he wanted to say on the tip of his tongue. But there was one thing he felt like he needed to say, if he said nothing else to him, he had to say this.

He told him the last sentence he had written to Albel. Cliff's face remained passive and blank-all except his blue eyes that were in a sort of quiet turmoil, which Fayt never had the courage to look into at that moment. Fayt hesitated. The only people around were two employees, busy going over some paperwork and another person at a computer terminal, on the phone with a customer. From the expressions of the employee, it was a headache-inducing phone call.

Fayt glanced around briefly, then leaned up and kissed Cliff softly. He looked up at him, blushing a little. He turned and fled into the ship just before the attendant was about to close the gates.

Cliff blinked slowly, then turned around. That was it then. He had thought it had all been over years ago, but this was the real ending.

He walked back to the parking area. Well, that was that then.

About five more years later

Albel had returned… just in time to see Woltar on his death bed. Woltar told Albel in between rattling breaths that Fayt and Cliff had come back hoping to see him about five years ago. Albel told him that he had found the dragon and killed it. The old man smiled and said that he was proud of him, that his father would be too. Woltar didn't have any remaining family. A lot of people liked and cared about him, but no family. The mansion was going to the Storm Brigade, everything like that taken care of already.

He sat beside him, waiting for death to take the old man. Sometimes, he got restless and paced the hall. The waiting was terrible. Each rattling breath he took could be his last and occasionally, he could hear a gurgling noise from his throat. The nurse said it was the sound of his organs failing. Lovely.

Closer and closer to death with each breath. Albel never wanted to get old. He felt a renewed sense of determination to die on the battlefield—not in bed old and toothless. He ended up being in the room, sitting in a chair across from the bed, when the old man gasped softly. Albel walked to his side in time to see the life fade from his eyes. Somehow, it boded ill. He wasn't particularly bothered by Woltar's death. He was just bothered that he couldn't have arrived earlier.

Albel went into Woltar's office and found the key to his office, exactly where he had left it. As he walked out, he took one last glance down the hallway. The door was partway open and he could hear people inside. He looked away. It just didn't sit well that he had arrived on Woltar's last day of life. If he had been the superstitious type, he might have said it was a poor omen. As it was, it was just faintly disturbing.

He headed back to the Training Facility. To say he was welcomed warmly was an understatement, but he really wanted to be alone for a while.

He went to his room, unlocking the door. A breeze snaked its way down the hallway, stirring the dust inside the room. He covered his mouth and nose to keep from sneezing and walked inside. Things were not as he had left them. It looked as though it had been cleaned and organized some time ago. He scowled. This had been Fayt's doing, no doubt. He walked into the bedroom, looking around. Yep, it had been cleaned five years ago, most definitely.

The maids should be here soon. When he had come back, they had wanted to clean out everything. He would let them… but not just yet.

He picked up the box on the shelf in the closet, flinching against the dust. He blinked it out of his eyes. He lifted the lid with some effort. The hinges creaked, protesting the movement. He made a mental note to oil the hinges later. He sighted the key first and picked it up, but something else caught his attention. He lifted the envelope. The script was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, but he knew who it was from. Should he just throw it away without reading it? He hesitated at that, then decided to tear it open anyway. He set the key down and was about to rip open the envelope when a knock at the door interrupted him. He blinked. Who was that? A second knock echoed the first. Oh, the cleaning crew. He had nearly forgotten about them.

He called them in. He put the box and the key away, but kept the letter. However, he didn't open it—not yet. He needed to speak to King Airyglyph anyway. He could wait on the letter. He wasn't that curious.

But why had Fayt come here five years ago? Just to see him? That seemed… But then again, this was Fayt, after all. Fayt… He wondered how he was doing, and then wondered why. They had left on such bad terms. He hadn't thought much about him in some time. Why wonder about him now? And what about Cliff? He made a mental note to at least contact Cliff some time later—Cliff had never stabbed at his conscience the way Fayt did, never hurt him quite the way Fayt had. Sure, Cliff had hurt him. They had all hurt each other in one way or another, but Fayt… Fayt had not only hurt him, destroyed their relationship, he had done it in the worst possible way. All the same…

The letter pricked at his curiosity the way spring pricked at the snow. He was halfway there before he decided to plop down on the nearest sizeable rock and grab it. He stared at the letter for a time. The wind rustled his hair, blowing one of the rat tails across his lap. It had grown quite a bit since he had been gone.

He hadn't bothered to cut it, and now it was almost to the back of his knees. He pushed the rat tails aside. He needed to cut it, especially the front. He shoved some of the mass of hair out of his eyes. Some of it was turning grey with age. A strand of silver brushed across his face. Time does that, and now his hair was three different colours—imagine that. Hell, it may be turning colour but at least he still had all of it.

What had it been-ten years since he had last seen Fayt and Cliff? He had talked to Cliff briefly over the communicator, but that hardly counted. He looked down the hill at Kirlsa. Should he really read it? Wouldn't it just be more of Fayt whining?

He sighed. Or would Fayt have something useful to say?

It was five years ago though. Wouldn't it be more effective to just throw it away? Maybe just send him an e-mail on the communicator or something? It had been sitting there for almost seven years untouched—unless Fayt had moved it around, then it was five. Would it even still work? Something told him that it would. He fingered the letter thoughtfully. Or should he shove it back in his pack and wait? Surely, he could wait.

Hell, he hadn't seen Fayt in ten years.

Maybe, Albel thought dryly, I'm getting old.

He tore open the letter.

The script was legible. He knew that Fayt wrote in a different language than his, so Fayt must have used his communicator to write it. He grinned at that, picturing Fayt taking four times as long to write this. He had hand-written it after all. Must have been difficult. He could at least appreciate that—Fayt had actually put time and effort in to writing this. No matter what it said, Fayt had done more than just whine; he had worked on it.

The first paragraph was all in past-tense, detailing how Fayt had felt about him years ago... about how Fayt had loved them. He sighed sadly. If only Fayt had confessed this twelve years ago before they had all left the first time. Hell, ten years ago! In a rage, he almost tore it up and burned it.

But the past was just that, the past. Nothing to be done about it now. Besides, he was guilty of the same crime. They all were. He sighed again and continued on to the next paragraph. Yes, he was older and more mature.

It detailed how Fayt felt about Albel now. He wanted to be friends. He didn't love him anymore, but he wanted so much to be friends. He didn't want Albel to hate him anymore. He wanted to be able to talk to him again.

Albel knew it wasn't good enough. It sounded better than nothing, but the way he felt, it was all or nothing at all. A grey area wasn't good enough. No, he wouldn't go for that. Not after all the shit Fayt had pulled—leaving, marrying Sophia… No, their current relationship-or lack thereof-would do. It had worked this long. Why stop now?

The third paragraph was that Fayt was sorry-terribly, heartbreakingly sorry about everything he had done to both Albel and Cliff. Fayt had borne this guilt a long time.

Hell, let him continue to bear it. Albel wouldn't forgive him for marrying Sophia. Not now, not ever. An apology wasn't quite enough. Words weren't enough to bridge the wide canyon that had grown between them. So Fayt could forget about him being forgiving. Fuck that idea to hell. But then again, Fayt hadn't seemed to expect it anyway.

The last sentence elicited this reaction from the Elicoorian: Albel ground his teeth in a fury that hadn't been broached since Fayt had declared his engagement. He crumbled up the sheet of paper and set it on fire. He watched it burn and kicked the ashes, scattering them to the winds. Albel turned and continued on his way to the castle.

He didn't love Fayt, he didn't want to be friends, and he certainly didn't forgive him. But as he was walking away, he realized that there never could have been a happy ending anyway, and that knowledge seemed to soothe him. There was no such thing as a happy ending, despite all the children's tales and songs. There could never be a happy ending… because nothing ever ends.

The last sentence was this:

Sophia died during childbirth, and our child with her.

-Fayt Leingod

Owari

A note from the author: Did you like it? I hope so! Anyway, if I get a large enough amount of requests, I'm going to make this into a doujinshi, so send me a message or a comment to let me know!