Disclaimer: I do not own Tales of Graces f, nor do I own any of the Tales games or the franchise. Thank you, Namco, for bringing us this amazing game! Xillia is next, right? Right? *Smiles hopefully.*
WARNING: This fic contains spoilers for the PlayStation 3 version of Tales of Graces, specifically concerning the six months later add on, Lineage & Legacies. Can't say I didn't warn you!
AUTHOR NOTE: Okay...so...Well, to start off, this is my first attempt at a Tales fic, and so of course I'm a bit nervous about it. I tried my very best to stay as true to the characters as possible, so I hope I succeeded in doing so, at least to some extent.
Now, this one-shot is supposed to take place after Asbel nearly dies epically in a sea of flames at the Eleth Research Laboratory, where Richard saves him, and after the scene at Telos Astue, where you can talk to each of the characters and Lambda will speak to them. (Where you see Pascal's Mecha Asbel invention for the first time.) After that you have the option of leaving and returning to the world map before going to the Lastalia Shaft and the final boss, which gives you an opportunity to visit Pascal's hometown in Fendel to see another scene with Mecha Asbel. So this fic takes place after the Lambda scenes in Telos Astue, but before the Lastalia Shaft, where they are on their way to Fendel for that second scene with Pascal and the robot. I have them stopping at the inn in Yu Liberte for the night before going on to Fendel. Also, I had to make up what the inn room looks like in Yu Liberte because you only get to see the main room of the inn.
NOTE: Originally posted January 12th 2011. Rewritten April 1st 2012.
UPDATED AUTHOR NOTE: I was actually surprised by how much I didn't have to change, despite not understanding Japanese, but now that the game is out in English I've updated this story to be in line with the English version, as that is the version most readers on this site will be familiar with. Hence, all of the names and terms are for the English version now. I hope you all enjoy reading this story every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it, and feel free to leave me a review on what you think of this new and improved version! -Broken Angel01 (April 1st, 2012)
The fountains on either side of the staircase leading up towards the dining area were beautiful, much like the very inn itself, and gazing into the depths of the fountain on the right-hand side of the room, Richard let out a soft sigh, his hands coming together behind his back and his grayish amber eyes fluttering shut to listen to the peaceful sound of gently flowing water as it cascaded down from an unknown source. Apparently it was erupting from what appeared to be the edge of the second floor tier, creating a wall of pure, clean water tumbling into the marble basins below. The two aquatic structures were actually more of a combination between a waterfall and a fountain, but they were nonetheless spectacular to gaze upon, and they suited the upscale inn nicely.
Perfection in all its glory.
After the ordeal they had suffered at the hands of the Little Queen at the Eleth Research Laboratory, and then again when several had attacked them at Arcadia Garden, it was only natural that everyone in the party was exhausted, Richard included, but as usual that hadn't seemed to faze Pascal in the slightest. After leaving the garden, the short time they had spent resting in Telos Astue had tested Richard's resolve, and after what had been said to him during his impromptu conversation with Lambda, he was determined to put his trust into Lambda's words. And, of course, in Asbel himself. Though Asbel had appeared ready to head for the Lastalia Shaft leading to Fodra's core right after what had been an uneasy night of sleep for Richard, the next morning Pascal had requested a quick trip back to the Amarcian Enclave in Fendel for reasons that were probably best left unknown, though Cheria and Sophie seemed to be aware of what was going on.
Not that those two were bothering to enlighten the group any more than Pascal had.
Asbel, being the polite and respectful young man that he was, was always willing to honour the wishes of others, thus he had immediately agreed to Pascal's request, though since traveling to Fendel would take some time, he had only agreed to allow the trip if Pascal was willing to take an extra day to get there. That way they could spend the night at an inn for a little bit more rest before moving on to the Amarcian Enclave early in the morning and then onto the Lastalia Shaft later in the day. It was an idea that had been quickly voiced by Malik, and Richard had agreed wholeheartedly with the older man's suggestion. Their night in Telos Astue hadn't exactly been all that restful, since the plan to have Lambda adsorb all the eleth in Fodra's core still weighed heavily on their minds, and though they had all gotten a bit of sleep, it hadn't been nearly enough to prepare the group for what awaited them at the bottom of the Lastalia Shaft.
After settling the finer details of their plan, they had agreed to stay at the spacious inn in Yu Liberte, which was located in the capital city of Strahta. From there they would make their way to the Amarcian Enclave in the kingdom of Fendel. Not wanting to intrude on the Oswell mansion, since Hubert really wasn't up to speaking with his adopted father again so soon after the ongoing fiasco with his supposed engagement to the president's daughter, they had decided on the inn for the night.
And so here they were in Yu Liberte, taking some time to gather their thoughts and to prepare themselves for what was still to come.
I suppose I am merely being sentimental, but I cannot help feeling as if there is still so much more that needs to be said...
Startled out of his thoughts, Richard turned his head slightly to find Sophie standing behind him near the front desk, her feet shifting slightly on the plush purple carpet that was covered in intricate designs. The carpet ran into a large circle located in the centre of the floor before traveling up to the dining area, and it came to a stop at the counter on the third tier where the food and drinks were served.
A large, white piano stood on the second tier on the right-hand side of the room next to the stairs, which led to the counter on the third tier, and comfy green sofas lined the walls, two on the left and one on the right next to the piano. The rest of the carpet covering the floor had the same intricate designs as the purple carpet trailing up all three tiers in the centre of the room, but it was a bright colour that seemed to fall somewhere between blue and green, and it matched the green and purple paneling on the walls.
The entire colour scheme of the inn appeared to be blue, green, purple, and beige, and a door off to the left on the lowest tier, across from the reception desk, led to the long hallway where the rooms were located. The hallway circled around towards the back of the inn, where it abruptly came to an end on the right-hand side of the building. Six crystal chandeliers hung above the dining area, and several potted plants added to the decor. There was also a strange blue bulb with a long crystal tube hanging from the ceiling behind the counter on the third tier, and on the end of it was another large sphere full of what looked like swirling blue fog and trickling water. Richard wasn't exactly sure what it was, but it was certainly beautiful and it made a nice addition to the overall look of the inn.
"Sophie, you seem preoccupied. I must say, it always seems strange to see you without Asbel by your side."
Sophie titled her head in that way she always did when she was curious about something, the tips of her long violet hair brushing ever so slightly against the carpet matching her shiny tresses, and studying his profile with an unreadable expression on her face, she blinked serenely at him before lifting her gaze to the ceiling. "Are you sad, Richard?"
"No, Sophie, not sad. More...contemplative, I suppose would be the word to use."
"You're thinking about Asbel."
Aren't we all...
Richard took a step forward, his dark cape rustling slightly at the sudden movement, and reaching out he took Sophie's hand in both of his, giving it a gentle squeeze, which Sophie returned without any hesitation. It was such a different reaction from the days when Sophie had been wary of him because of his changing demeanor, and to know that she trusted him completely, that she still had unwavering faith in him despite all that he had been through, that was something he could never take for granted. There were no words to describe how it made him feel, and he could only hope that perhaps those emotions would somehow reach his female companion through the simple contact of their hands and the connection they shared with one another.
"Sophie, true friends are not so easy to come by in a world often filled with pain and suffering. We must hold onto the ones we have and treasure them as best we can."
"Like you and Asbel," Sophie replied, nodding to show she understood.
So pure and innocent, it was hard to believe that such a fierce warrior lived inside her small, compact body, but that was exactly what she was. Her determination and her will to fight could be rivaled by no one else, other than perhaps Asbel, which was why the two of them made such a perfect team on the battlefield. And yet...her gentle nature would never allow her to forget what was truly important, which was perhaps why Richard found himself musing that he, too, made such a wonderful companion for Sophie. That's what Asbel would say, and he could not bring himself to disagree. After all, he trusted Asbel completely, and his faith in the other man was not something he could question.
"Malik, Pascal, Hubert, and Cheria, as well. Though we may not always find it easy to trust others, including those who are closest to us, sometimes we must take the chance or risk losing all that we hold dear and all those we care deeply for."
"You won't lose me, or Asbel," Sophie reassured him, placing her other hand over his and squeezing tightly. "Or any of us. Don't ever leave us again, Richard. It would make me sad, and Asbel would be sad."
"I don't intend to."
Sophie tilted her head to the other side, and the barest hint of a smile graced her lips, her lavender eyes gleaming under the soft light of the chandeliers. "I know."
Richard paused for a moment, and gazing into Sophie's eyes, he said softly, "I want to thank you, Sophie. You have taught me much that perhaps I wasn't able to see for myself at first, but now it's all so clear to me. Your friendship has been invaluable and words cannot express my gratitude for everything you have done for me. Thank you, Sophie. I am, as always, in your debt."
Sophie didn't reply. Instead she tugged on his hand and proceeded to drag him up the stairs towards the dining area, causing him to stumble a bit.
"Come, Richard," Sophie urged, once again tugging on his hand. "Come see the others."
Richard allowed himself to be led towards one of the small tables covered by a crisp, white table cloth located on the left-hand side of the room. Upon arriving he discovered that Malik and Pascal were already seated at the table and Cheria was snoozing on the sofa behind them. Malik was busy sharpening his curved blade, a contented look on his rugged face, and Pascal was hammering away at some sort of contraption. One of her inventions, no doubt. What exactly it was, Richard did not know, but with Pascal sometimes it was just best not to ask and leave well enough alone. Perhaps it was for that Mecha Asbel thingy she had cooked up at Telos Astue, and shaking his head Richard allowed himself a small smile. Even Cheria had calmed down enough to get some rest, though Richard suspected she was only pretending to be asleep. From the way the other members of the party were acting at the moment, you'd never think that all of them, Asbel most of all, were on the verge of impending danger. They were about to face one of the most difficult challenges of their lives, but truthfully it wasn't really all that surprising. They all trusted Asbel, and now they even trusted Lambda, and they knew somehow, someway, Asbel and Lambda would get them through this. Asbel would never give up, and they knew they couldn't give up either.
"Richard! About time you came and joined us," Pascal scolded, continuing to bang away rather louder than was truly necessary on her invention, causing several of the other guests in the inn to gaze at her with mild annoyance. "Sulking over there by the fountains all by yourself. It isn't proper for a king, y'know."
At this, Cheria cracked open one eye and she let out a soft laugh before turning on her side to face them, her expression much more calm and serene than it had been at Telos Astue.
As Richard had suspected, she was not in fact asleep, and rolling his eyes at Pascal, who was still scolding him, he gracefully sat down in the seat across from the female genius, his hands folding themselves together neatly on the table. Sophie sat next to him, gazing curiously at Pascal's mysterious invention, and regarding the female genius with amusement, he said, "I wasn't sulking. I was meditating, which is proper for a king."
"You were being moody!" Pascal replied in her usual sunny tone, giving her contraption a particularly enthusiastic whack.
"Contemplative, Pascal. There's a difference."
"Depressing!" Pascal countered in a sing-song voice, smiling mischievously. "You're like...ruining the atmosphere. I'm gonna tell Asbel on you!"
Richard merely smiled at this, and studying Pascal's cheerful expression he placed his fingers under his chin, his expression becoming thoughtful. "And why, if I may ask, are we heading to the Amarcian Enclave?"
"You'll see when we get there."
"Should I be worried?"
At this, Pascal leaned across the table to whack him upside the head, and twisting effortlessly out of her reach, he chuckled at the pout on her face. "Best to know what I'm getting myself into ahead of time."
"It's a secret," Pascal informed him, winking in that playful way of hers. "You'll see when we get there."
"A really big secret," Cheria laughed softly, sitting up and leaning over to give Pascal's shoulders an affectionate squeeze. "Although, despite what you said back at Telos Astue...I'm not too sure exactly what you have planned either..."
"Pascal, I want to see," Sophie announced, clapping her hands together in delight.
"See?" Pascal cried, pointing dramatically at Sophie. "At least someone around here appreciates all my hard work and dedication!"
"She'll learn better soon enough," Malik teased, earning himself a hearty whack on the shoulder from Pascal's large hammer.
Richard felt a sudden rush of affection for his companions, and gazing fondly at each of them in turn, he placed his hands together beneath his chin, his gaze coming to rest on the pristine white table top. "Where have Asbel and Hubert disappeared to?"
Pascal shrugged. "Don't ask me. They're around here somewhere. Maybe they're having like...secret male bonding time...or something. Oh! You should join them, Richard! You're killing the mood here and Little Bro is just as out of it as you are. You two make great company for each other."
She, of all people, speaks about killing the mood?
"I believe they're in our room," Malik interrupted, cuffing Pascal on the back of the head, earning himself a yelp from the female genius. "Is that any way to talk to a king?"
"Ouch! It's just Richard! What's the big deal?"
Richard couldn't help laughing at this, and leaping lightly to his feet with a flourish, he said, "Actually, I think I will join them. Excellent idea, Pascal. You have your moments."
"Y'okay. Have fun!"
"Definitely male bonding time," Cheria said confidently, nodding solemnly in agreement.
"Male...bonding?" Sophie asked curiously, glancing at the other two females for an explanation.
"Yes, male bonding," Cheria explained, coming around the table to snag the chair Richard had just abandoned. "It's like when we, as in you, Pascal, and myself, have girl talk time, only it's the guys instead of the girls."
"Only difference is, they gossip waaaay more than we do," Pascal added, winking at Sophie. "Uh...I think. I wouldn't really know, to be honest."
"You would say that," Cheria sighed, shaking her head in defeat. "Anyways, Sophie, when it comes to gossiping, men are the worst."
Richard placed a hand to his heart, feigning a look of hurt. "I could attempt to defend our manly, non-gossiping ways, but..."
"Best to leave now before they eat you alive," Malik advised, admiring the work he'd done on his weapon.
"Agreed. And on that note, I bid you all goodnight."
"Goodnight, Richard," Cheria said softly, smiling faintly at him. "I...could you say goodnight to Asbel for me?"
"Goodnight, Richard," Sophie echoed, giving his hand one last comforting squeeze.
"Sleep well, Your Majesty," Malik murmured, inclining his head slightly. "We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Indeed, we do."
"Goodnight, princely king man!" Pascal called out cheerfully, waving her hammer at him in fair well.
"Princely king- That doesn't even make any sense!" Malik groaned, slapping a hand against his forehead.
"Sure it does! Hey...wait a minute...Richard, what did you mean when you said I have my 'moments', huh?"
And that's my cue to leave.
Leaping lightly down the stairs, Richard quickly made his way towards the door leading to the inn rooms before Pascal could work out what he had said, and striding down the long hallway lined with tall windows on the left he proceeded to head towards the back of the building, to the room he was sharing with Malik, Asbel, and Hubert. It was a corner room all the way to the right, and though it certainly wasn't the best room the inn had to offer, it was cozy and comfortable. The three women had the room next to them on the left, and passing their door, Richard quietly entered his own room, closing the door softly behind him.
He had not been bothered in the slightest by Pascal's attitude. As a general rule, other than Malik, the others did not treat him like royalty, unless it was to tease him, and that was exactly how he wanted it. They were his friends, not his subjects, and equal to him in every sense of the word. For them to treat him like a king, like someone of higher status, would be more than he could endure, as he did not see himself as such. If anything, he should be the one kneeling to his friends, not the other way around.
Asbel...you deserve more than what I've been able to give you, but for now it'll have to be enough. You've always been so kind to me and you never gave up on me, even when I felt like giving up on myself. One day, I hope to be worthy of the kindness you've shown me and the friendship you freely placed in my hands without ever expecting anything in return.
His thoughts were solemn, but there was a smile on his face as he studied the interior of the room where he would be staying for the night with his fellow male companions. The room was decorated in the same style as the rest of the inn, in shades of purple, blue, green, and beige. The centre of the room was occupied by a large circular carpet the same shade of violet as the one climbing the stairs near the reception desk, and the rest of the carpet was green, both shades of the carpets covered in intricate designs. Two crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling and the beige walls were covered in green paneling. There was a small marble fountain in the corner of the room on the right, next to the fireplace, and to the left of the door sat a comfortable green sofa. In the corner on the left was a small desk with several comfy chairs to lounge in. Several potted plants decorated the room, and to the right of the desk beneath one of the two long, tall windows was the cot Malik had volunteered to use for the night. Two small steps led to a raised dais that covered the entire far side of the room, which was where the two queen sized beds were located, each one supplied with its own nightstand and bedside lamp. The left bed had already been claimed by the Oswell/Lhant siblings, which left the right one for Richard. Between the two beds was the second window, also tall and elegant, only this one had a window seat. It was here that Richard discovered where Asbel and Hubert had disappeared to, and seeing the two of them together brought another smile to his face. The two brothers were sitting across from each other, their legs crossed and their gazes focused on something outside the window. They were talking softly to one another, but their words were too low for Richard to make out what they were saying.
Both brothers looked up at the soft sound of his boots on the carpet, and inclining his head to them, he said softly, "My apologies. I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Hubert looked at Asbel, and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, a gesture he often made when either nervous, embarrassed, or annoyed, he quickly shook his head, a soft huff escaping his lips. "Nothing of great importance."
"Oh no, not at all," Asbel agreed, looking rather amused at his brother's expense.
Richard raised his eyebrows, and seeing the look on Hubert's face he couldn't help smiling as well. If he had not been trained in the art of swordsmanship to remain aware of his surroundings at all times and trained as a member of the royal family to be able to read other people with the utmost precision, he would have missed the barest hint of a blush on Hubert's pale face, but as it was, he did not miss it and he was forced to come to the conclusion that Hubert was still tentative about showing his true emotions, especially with regards to what he felt for Asbel. It was still a new thing for Hubert to be able to show his affection for Asbel freely and to accept what he truly felt for his older brother after having to stumble his way through a rocky relationship full of hurt and misunderstanding. Hubert was still getting used to connecting with his childhood self again, to the boy who had once looked up to Asbel, and apparently still did.
Richard felt sometimes Hubert could be a little too serious for a young man his age, often direct and to the point. A very blunt individual, to put it plainly. But there was no denying he had a soft spot for Asbel, even if he would not admit it. Much like he did for Pascal, though the female genius was completely clueless in that regard.
"Ah, I see. Male bonding time. Or should I say...family bonding time?"
Hubert blinked at him. "What?"
Richard dismissed the younger man's rather undignified response with a flick of his wrist, and stepping onto the raised dais, he fixed the brothers with a mischievous smile. "I assure you those are not my words. I only just managed to escape from our lady companions with my dignity intact. Mostly thanks to the ever amusing and slightly unnerving Pascal, of course."
"What is she up to now?" Hubert demanded, his thin eyebrows narrowing into a disapproving frown.
"Best not to ask, I expect. But by all means, it may do you some good to pay her a visit."
At this, Hubert turned an undeniable shade of red, and scrambling quickly to his feet, the coat tails on his military jacket swaying slightly in the cool breeze coming through the open window, he muttered something under his breath before turning to regard his brother with a look that just dared the older sibling to comment.
Asbel, seeing the look on Hubert's face, wisely kept his mouth shut, and smiling at his younger brother, he said, "You should let the others know it's probably best if we started turning in for the night. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
"You most of all," Hubert said shortly, an unreadable expression on his face. "Besides, I'm sure-"
"Captain Malik is already in the process of doing so," Richard finished, smiling at Hubert, who smiled briefly in return.
It was hard to deny the friendship you shared with others was on the right track when you started to know each other so well you could predict each member of the party's actions with accuracy, as if reading from a script.
"Sounds like him for sure," Asbel agreed, pulling his knees up to his chest. "Go on, Hubert. The others are probably wondering where you are."
"You as well, I'm sure. More so than me."
"Say goodnight to them for me, would you?"
Hubert sighed, a slightly pained look on his face. "Brother..."
"I promise I'll go to bed soon. Tell the girls not to worry about me."
Hubert sighed before relenting, the look in his bright blue eyes softening ever so slightly as he gazed down at his older brother's face, and reaching out he gently placed his hand on Asbel's shoulder, leaning into his older brother slightly, as if reluctant to leave. "Goodnight, Brother. You'd better be asleep when I get back."
Asbel laughed, and leaning briefly against Hubert's shoulder, he nodded his acceptance, a contented smile on his face.
Since it looked as if Asbel wasn't going to argue with him, Hubert quickly straightened up, his manner once more becoming brisk and to the point. "Goodnight, Richard."
"Goodnight, Hubert. I promise I won't keep him long."
Hubert glanced at Asbel for a moment, and giving a curt nod he stepped confidently off the dais and proceeded to walk briskly towards the door. His hand touched the doorknob, but instead of pulling the door open, he turned slowly back towards the dais, as if unsure of what he was doing.
Richard met the younger man's eyes for a moment and they stared at each other, their gazes locked in some kind of silent communication. They had been so close, so close to losing Asbel, someone they both cared very deeply for. Richard's arm still throbbed with the pain of hanging onto Asbel's hand, using every bit of strength he possessed not to let go. His other arm ached from hanging onto Hubert's grasp, both of them desperately trying to stay upright. Another second, a brief hesitation, and Asbel would have been lost.
Richard shuddered at the thought and he could tell Hubert was thinking the same thing, but that wasn't what had captured his attention with regards to the young lieutenant.
Beneath Hubert's often stoic gaze, the emotion those eyes now held left no doubt just exactly how he felt about Asbel. The relief, the gratitude, it was only too easy to understand the message he was trying to get across, his emotions raw and unhindered by his somewhat sharp personality. It was an expression of the words he couldn't express, the things he couldn't bring himself to speak out loud.
Thankfully, words weren't always necessary. Asbel himself had proved that actions often spoke louder than words, as was the case in this situation.
Perhaps Hubert didn't agree because he opened his mouth as if to speak, but instead of saying anything he merely shook his head and stepped out of the room, his coattails disappearing around the edge of the door.
He didn't need to say anything. Richard understood perfectly, and he knew Hubert knew it.
Asbel, having watched the exchange with a slightly confused look on his face, indicated the seat next to him with his hand, the one in which Hubert had so recently occupied, and sitting down next to the dark-haired swordsman, Richard lowered his gaze and said softly, "Cheria bids you goodnight. I was instructed specifically to tell you so."
This time it was Asbel's turn to blush, but instead of responding he merely nodded in acknowledgement of the words and turned his attention back to the open window, a soft smile on his face. "It's been quite a journey, hasn't it."
Richard chose to ignore the view outside the window. Instead, he studied Asbel's profile in the dim glow of one of the two bedside lamps, marveling at his own fortune. Richard could still remember the cheerful, carefree boy who had appeared so suddenly through the window of the room he'd been occupying at the Lhant mansion, the boy who had offered him a hand in friendship without any hesitation. Glimpses of that young boy could still be seen within Asbel, but at the same time he had grown into a mature young man with a strong will to protect those who were important to him and the determination to mold himself into a talented and capable lord. He had become the type of man who could not leave others to face their problems alone, to let others succumb to the darkness in their own hearts. Always straightforward and honest as a young boy, some of that had been lost after the unfortunate incident with Sophie seven years ago, and though Richard had seen glimpses of that young boy after meeting up with Asbel again, even after so many years spent apart, the dark-haired swordsman's emotions had been much more reserved. A diligent and polite knight, indeed he had become, if only in attitude and not officially in name, but as a young man and no longer a boy, Richard had often found Asbel trying to hide the true passion and enthusiasm that existed deep within his heart. Those were the very traits that made Asbel who he was, but there was one thing he had never been able to hide, his sheer will and determination, rivaled only by Sophie, to protect those close to him and to keep his loved ones safe.
Though Asbel had never finished his training with the Knight Academy, and instead had taken up the role of a lord, he was still very much a noble knight in every sense of the word.
More so than many of the knights in the academy...
Somehow, by some unforeseen twist of fate, this man, Asbel, and Sophie, had become Richard's two closest friends. How, in all of Ephinea, did he ever become so lucky? Especially considering what the future had still held for him?
Without Asbel and Sophie, where would I be now? Dead, most likely, and of no use to anyone. It is thanks to them that I can live knowing there is so much I can do for my people. It is the very least I can do for those who have given so much to me.
"Richard?" Asbel asked, turning suddenly to face him.
The pale moonlight streaming into the open window grazed Asbel's pale skin with a luminescent glow, making him look almost ethereal in appearance, and his dark hair shone a faint silver, the dim light of the lamp just barely touching his back and shoulders. His eyes, one a sparkling blue, the other a deep violet, were dark with the fiery passion he no longer seemed able to hide compared to the days when his journey had first started over six months ago, and it made Richard smile. He loved this side of Asbel most of all, the Asbel who was free to be himself.
"Yes, it has. So much has happened. Often, it is difficult to take it all in and to find the time to truly appreciate all that we have been through."
"Not surprising, though," Asbel agreed, his arms resting on his knees. "But this time, it's different."
Richard had his back to the window, and shifting slightly to face Asbel, the cool breeze ruffling his golden hair and dark cape, he said softly, "How so?"
"This time, you're here with us."
Asbel looked at him then, and Richard found himself unable to keep silent anymore. "Asbel...at the Eleth Research Laboratory..."
Before he could even work out what he wanted to say, Asbel held up a hand to silence him before reaching out to give his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "It doesn't matter. You don't have to say anything. I knew you'd come through for me."
"Asbel, the amount of faith you put in others is truly admirable."
"I've always believed in you. Always."
That familiar determination in Asbel's mismatched eyes. Pure, steadfast, unwavering. It was enough to leave even someone like Pascal momentarily speechless.
Richard turned slightly to gaze at the dark sky sleeping above Yu Liberte, the moon shining brightly and the stars twinkling like jewels high above Ephinea, his emotions threatening to overwhelm him. "And I you. Always, deep within my heart, even if perhaps...it did not always seem that way."
Richard turned back to the man beside him, who was without a doubt his closest friend and most trusted companion, the comforting feel of Asbel's hand on his shoulder reminding him of his own earlier musings by the fountain, and again with Hubert. Actions truly did speak louder than words and maybe all that needed to be said had already been said, just not in the form of words.
"I must say, it was nice to return the favour for once."
At this, Asbel laughed, withdrawing his hand, and Richard toppled over slightly as his fellow swordsman placed a well-aimed boot in his ribs, knocking him off balance.
"Is that any way to treat a king?" he teased, repeating Malik's earlier words.
Asbel let out a snort, a playful smile on his lips, and humbly bowing his head, he said with a convincing air of solemn respect, "My apologies, Your Highness."
Richard returned the favour with a shove, sending Asbel tumbling to the floor. "Don't ever call me that again. It sounds disturbingly wrong coming from you."
"Excessive use of force, Richard? Is that any way to treat your faithful subjects?" Asbel countered, earning himself a kick between the shoulder blades.
A sudden thought occurred to Richard, and he found himself growing serious again. "Asbel...my knights, the knights of Windor, protect me because I am their king. In other words, it's their job. That's not to say some of them don't care about my well-being as a person. I'm sure a few of them do in their own way, but it is their duty, and yours too in a sense... But with you, it doesn't matter that I am your king. You simply do it because..."
"Because I'm your friend," Asbel finished, clamouring back onto the window seat and crossing his legs again, his expression thoughtful. "King or not, it doesn't matter to me. I...I care because you're you, and it would be no different regardless of your status."
They looked at each other, and Richard gently shook his head, still marveling at his own luck. Fate had been kind to him, even though he had not deserved it.
"We are so very different, Asbel. Truly, I envy you some days. Your ability to believe in others without any reservations, your strength, your determination, your willingness to forgive those who have betrayed your trust. I am very lucky to have met someone such as you."
Asbel looked a little surprised by this sudden heartfelt confession, and perhaps even a tad bit embarrassed, but Richard could tell his fellow swordsman appreciated the sentiment. Asbel had been his first true friend and that was something he could never forget.
Richard pulled himself out of his thoughts, and he gazed patiently at his dark-haired friend, knowing Asbel would speak when he was ready.
"I...I'm glad you're here with us, Richard. Without you, it...it just wasn't the same."
"Believe me when I say this for I speak the truth. There is no other place I would rather be. Being here with you, and with Sophie, with all of our companions who risked their lives for me, this is where I am meant to be. I promise you, Asbel, I will not give up. This time, I will see this through with you to the end. As your faithful friend, you have my word."
Asbel nodded, his gaze once again shifting to the open window. "It's going to be okay, whatever happens tomorrow. We'll get through this. All of us together."
And Richard believed him.
Asbel was a man of his word, and whatever happened, he would see this newest challenge through to the end.
Knowing the strength to protect. Asbel...you are without a doubt a blessing to all those who have ever crossed your path. Thank you, my friend. Thank you for helping me find myself again. You will always have a place in my heart. In all of our hearts.
"I guess...I should probably be heading for bed," Asbel suddenly said, reluctantly unfolding his legs and making a move to stand. "If I don't, Hubert will never let me forget it."
"Ah, yes, and I'm sure I will most likely be on the receiving end of his wrath as well, simply for being your accomplice. Not something I look forward to at all."
"Maybe we'll get lucky and Pascal will have distracted him enough to make him forget all about us," Asbel joked, laughing at his brother's expense.
Richard laughed, as well, and standing up he placed a hand on Asbel's shoulder, growing suddenly serious. "Sleep well, Asbel. We all believe in you, and in Lambda. Never forget that."
Asbel returned the gesture, and leaning close, he whispered, "Just like I believe in all of you."
They stood there for a moment, taking in the subtle nuances of their strong bond of friendship, comforted by the closeness they shared, and murmuring a quick goodnight, Asbel crawled onto his half of the bed he was sharing with his younger brother, muttering something about Hubert's earlier complaints involving Asbel's bad habit of having a tendency to kick in his sleep.
Climbing onto his own bed, Richard took a moment to gaze at his friend's dark profile, a fond smile on his face.
Unwavering faith. Asbel had it in spades and for the first time in his young life, Richard felt he had it, too. They all believed in the young swordsman, their hearts leaving no room for doubt.
Perhaps that was the most amazing thing about Asbel, the one thing Richard admired about his friend most of all. Asbel had a way of inspiring those around him with ease, making them feel a wide variety of emotions they never knew they possessed, never knew they would be capable of feeling, the most prominent of those feelings having captured all of their hearts.
The ability to believe, the determination never to give up, the strength to protect those who are floundering in the darkness, and most of all, to possess true, powerful, unshakable, unwavering faith.