The first-class section of the Titanic's deck was completely empty at such a late hour, in stark contrast to the smoke-filled room that the two Cradle siblings had been in not too long ago. The night air was crisp and cold, and an unfathomable number of stars shone brightly in the black sky above their heads.
"I-it's so c-cold..." Abel said, his teeth chattering uncontrollably. "Why in the w-world did y-you think it wise to c-come out here?"
A violent shiver wracked Liliana's body. "D-don't tell me that you've a-already f-f-forgotten what I told you earlier?"
"I r-realize that you wanted to speak somewhere p-private, but c-c-couldn't you have thought of somewhere w-warmer?" Abel crossed his arms over his chest in a vain attempt to preserve what little body heat he felt he had left.
"If you would stop c-complaining, we c-could f-finish much faster, Abel. A-and b-b-besides, I bet that the w-water below us is much c-colder."
Abel sighed in exasperation. "Well, g-get on with it, t-then."
"Alright, alright." Liliana inhaled deeply, the freezing air making the back of her throat feel numb. Her shivering suddenly ceased, and she began her story. "After dinner, I went back to the cabin alone."
"Alone?" Interrupted Abel, "but I thought that Mother was with you..."
Liliana shook her head, slightly annoyed by her brother's outburst. "No, she wasn't with me. Mother went off somewhere, though I'm not sure where that might have been."
"Ah, I see. Please, continue."
"Anyway," Liliana began again, this time with a hint of venom in her voice, "Father and his Executives came back to the room early, which caught me by surprise. ...I suppose I should have known then that something was wrong."
"Okay," said Abel as he made an impatient gesture with his right hand, "can you p-please get to the p-point?"
"He made me an offer that I couldn't refuse, Abel."
A chill that was not induced by the weather ran up Abel's spine and he suddenly felt very, very warm. "What sort of…offer?"
"Well, perhaps 'offer' is not quite the right word. He ordered me to take over Cradle Pharmaceutical when he is no longer fit to run the company."
Abel's face was a ghostly white and twisted by some combination of emotions that Liliana was incapable of deciphering. He looked like he wanted to say something, but remained silent.
"Father found out about your habits with women. He is sure to have a word with you in that regard the next time he has an opportunity. …But that's not the important part. Father didn't leave you out of his plans for Cradle Pharmaceutical, Abel."
Liliana's brother raised a tired eyebrow upon hearing her words.
"I am to be the brains of the company while you act as the face." The blond woman's words were quiet and solemn.
"So, in essence, you are saying that you will have to do all of the work while I take the credit?" Abel replied finally.
"…That is the gist of it."
Abel's fingers slowly curled into fists and his knuckles went white. "That's preposterous! He thinks that he is so high and mighty! Why, it's enough to make me laugh! Hahahahaha!" His sudden outburst echoed out over the waves, almost as if it was mocking him. "What an idiot he is. Perhaps I wouldn't choose girls like Nona and Ennea if the women Father introduced me to had even a centimeter of personality! They are empty shells, all of them! He knows nothing of me and nothing of you!" After he had finished shouting, his breath came in short, exhausted pants.
Liliana put a hand on his shoulder in an effort to calm him. "Stop it. You're scaring me."
"But you agree with me, don't you?"
"Of course I do. I just… I cannot see a way out of this." Liliana's arm drifted back to her side and she looked away from her brother's face.
"Couldn't you have refused?" Abel questioned, his voice serious.
"Believe me, I tried. Father, however, told me that if I did not accept his little proposal, he would disown me. In all honesty, I care nothing for him or his money, but I couldn't leave you and Mother with that… that monster."
"We're all just pawns in his game of chess, Liliana." Abel hissed in disgust. "He only cares for himself. I fail to understand how Mother could love a man such as him. She deserves better. We deserve better."
There was silence for a few moments as the siblings stared over the deck rails and out to the ocean, though it was difficult to tell where the water ended and the sky began.
"When Titanic docks in New York, we should run." Abel suggested suddenly.
"W-what?" Liliana stammered in shock. "That's ridiculous. Where would we go? And what about money?"
"Money is the least of our worries. I've kept all of the cash Father has given me over the years in a secret place. The only problem would be going back to the house to get it all… But all of that is beside the point, Lili. Don't you want an adventure, something different than the life we are forced to live?" Abel's eyes seemed to crackle with lightning, and Liliana wasn't sure if it was from anger, sorrow, or a combination of both. "Father wouldn't be able to order us around as if he were a dictator anymore!"
"Yes, that would be wonderful, but you're not thinking this through." A sudden gust of wind blew, as if it were upset by the conversation. "Father would spend all of his days trying to track us down, you know. Are you truly prepared to live with that fear every day? And think about Mother. We couldn't just leave her. She would be heartbroken!"
Abel heaved a short, frustrated sigh. "I would never dream of leaving Mother behind. We would run with her, of course."
"…Are you sure that she would want to leave him? Father, I mean. Would that really make her happy?" Liliana's blue eyes took on a wistful quality as she spoke in a low whisper.
"…What are you trying to say?"
"Neither of us care for Father, but Mother obviously does. Now, mind you, I don't understand what it is, but she sees some good in him that keeps her here. …I think that we should look for another solution."
"Unless you can come up with something different," Abel began, his tone cold and serious, "I'm running as soon as we dock."
"…I'll try to invent a new plan for us. We just need to wait and see how things will play out."
"We do not have much longer to wait, Liliana."
Silence rolled over the boat deck in waves, just as they rolled in the black water below. If they did not take action before leaving Titanic, their fates would be sealed and they would forever live as caged animals. It became increasingly clear as the minutes ticked by that running may very well be their best option, if not their only option.
Tired of the dreary and uncomfortable atmosphere, Liliana, who had once again begun to shiver, spoke up. "At any rate, we should return to the cabin."
"Yes, I suppose you're right." Abel replied solemnly. "Father will be missing his pawns."
With that final, depressing suggestion, the siblings wearily departed the boat deck and forced themselves to return to their cabin. A welcome warm rush of air greeted them as they re-entered the ship.
The walk felt long and uncomfortable; both Liliana and Abel feared what might have been hiding behind the extravagant door in the shadows. Neither of them wanted to turn the doorknob, but Abel finally gave in and did so with a melancholy sigh.
The inside of the cabin was dark, and the light that poured into the room from the hallway failed to illuminate anything save for the doorway. It appeared as though Ace and Hannelore had gone to bed, or simply hadn't returned from wherever they'd been. After ushering Liliana into the room and entering himself, Abel closed the door as silently as he possibly could.
"How good of you to return." The voice was smooth and cold, and it emanated from some unknown location in the room. It was almost as if the voice were coming from every possible angle, and to add to the unwelcome feeling, the voice was one that Abel and Liliana had hoped to avoid hearing at all costs. "Care to tell me where you've been?"
"F-Father…" Liliana stammered, her voice barely audible.
"We… We were just…" Abel tried unsuccessfully to finish his sister's thought before anxiety got the better of him.
Suddenly, the lights in the room flickered on, and the Cradle siblings saw that their father's voice had been coming from the sofa near the fireplace. The brightness only served to leave Abel and Liliana feeling more uneasy and exposed, now that their father could see them. The felt no shame or embarrassment, however: only vulnerability.
"Trying to lie to me is not in your best interest. I'm sure you've already discussed your respective fates for the future, then?" Ace's voice was cold and unfeeling; if he cared even a little for the emotions of his children, he made no display of it. "And I assume that you did so after your little rendezvous below deck with the street rats and back-alley scum that you seem so attached to, am I correct?"
Aoi Akane, Nona, Ennea, Vincent, and Lotus were certainly not the lowlife characters that Ace had portrayed them as, but as much as Liliana and Abel wanted to say something, in their defense, they knew that it would be unwise to speak as they would only be digging themselves a deeper grave.
Ace Cradle rose from his chair, and began to walk towards his children at a moderately slow pace. His approach was menacing; he looked nothing so much as a lion about to take down its prey. "Abel," he began, "you and I must speak privately. Liliana will retire to her bedroom and leave us be. I have already dealt with her."
Liliana, without so much as a nod, followed he father's indirect command and scuttled to her room like a nervous mouse. She gave Abel a look of pity and sorrow as she closed her door and left him to face their father's wrath alone.
"You disappoint me, Abel." Ace began coolly as he stood across from his son. "You certainly could have put more of an effort into hiding your intentions from me. You are much too easy to read. I expected better from you."
Abel's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Are you being sarcastic? What are you getting at?"
"You are a failure as a man and a failure as my son. That is what I was 'getting at.'"
The younger man did not flinch at the harshness of his father's words, but simply returned his empty stare. "I fail to understand where you intend to go with this, Father."
"Hmph. It seems as though I have gravely underestimated your ignorance." Ace Cradle snorted with grim humor. "I'll be getting rid of you, Abel. I have arranged for you to marry Dahlia Ford once we arrive in New York. I trust that you remember her from the gala in Pennsylvania? Well, you will be moving overseas with Dahlia and her family, you see. I've had quite enough of your nonsense, and will no longer stand for your unparalleled influence over your sister."
"B-but," stammered Abel, whose jaw had dropped in shock, "I heard from Liliana that I-"
"…Was to become the face of Cradle Pharmaceutical?" Ace interrupted, his tone one of mockery and twisted delight. "Oh, you can certainly act as the face from overseas. I simply cannot have you plotting something with Liliana, so I thought to put as much distance between the two of you as possible. Any visits you are allowed to make will be strictly for business, and any communication will be heavily scrutinized."
"Well, Father," said Abel, who had regained his composure during his father's drawn-out explanation, "that sounds quite lovely, but I'm afraid that I will have to decline. You see, I have other plans for my future that do not include Dahlia or Cradle Pharmaceutical."
Ace's face tightened in blatant annoyance. "It is obvious that you've spent too long with your sister. I haven't the slightest idea why the two of you pretend that you have any sort of authority in the governance of your own fates!"
"Perhaps I'd be more willing to accept the destiny you've laid out for me if you didn't treat me as though I were merely a rock by the roadside, a bug to be crushed under your heel, a useless memo that must be sent!" Abel was seething with blind fury, and he had unconsciously balled his hands into fists. His breathing grew measured and heavy, and he wanted nothing more than to run from everything; run down a path opposite from the one his father had forcibly carved for him. At that moment, Abel Cradle decided that he would run after Titanic docked in New York, regardless of whether or not Liliana and his mother would join in his escape. It was selfish, yes. If left alone, more weight would definitely be added to Liliana's shoulders, and the inevitable fact of the matter was, however sad, that Liliana's resilient spirit would soon shatter under the pressure, and she would become Ace's obedient minion. Abel assumed, though he did not know for certain, that his mother would be left to suffer in silence, a powerless onlooker, as her family fell apart and she was left alone to bear Ace's ire. It was exceedingly selfish, but there comes a time for last resorts, however selfish they may be. If this was not the best instance for Abel to play his "Last Resort" card, then the time would likely never come. If he were to act, he could spare no thought for selflessness. Abel could only keep his best interests in mind, if he wished to continue living in the truest sense of the word.
"I'll treat you however I see fit." Ace replied, his eyes narrowed. "Perhaps if you would change your attitude, I would consider treating you as a son."
"Perhaps if you changed your personality, we wouldn't be in this position in the first place! You have to earn my respect-!"
Before Abel could complete his thought, he felt a sudden, sharp stinging sensation upon his cheek. It took him a few moments to realize that he had been slapped. Abel tentatively moved his own hand to touch the throbbing cheek where a handprint had begun to appear.
Unbeknownst to Ace Cradle, his wife had witnessed his violence from the doorway of the cabin, and she stood there, her back illuminated by the dim light from the hallway, with her mouth agape.
"W-what have you done…?" She stammered, her voice hoarse and broken. "Why have you hit him?"
"It is none of your business." Ace replied sternly, without even so much as looking at her.
Hannelore, usually quiet and reserved, did not seem eager to back down. "Of course it is my business! You seem to forget that Abel is also my son. I will no longer stand idly by as you mistreat our children!"
"Abel," Ace began calmly, though he could not completely hide the undertone of anger in his voice, "leave us." He waved his hand in dismissal, and Abel begrudgingly obeyed.
"What has happened to you? You have become a monster! Why?" Hannelore desperately begged for an answer, her voice quiet, but with an edge of harshness.
"You will never understand, so I don't believe that it is worth my time to explain my reasons to you."
"But I am your wife!" She exclaimed, her teeth gritted in frustration. "I may not be able to understand completely, but perhaps I can help! Our family does not have to be this way! Do you not understand…?"
"We are not going to settle this matter now, Dear." Ace said firmly. "Go to bed. I have business to attend to."
Hannelore sighed deeply and began to retreat to their bedroom, of which she would be the sole occupant for the remainder of the night, but stopped before she entered. "I love you." Hannelore murmured, her words genuine.
"…Perhaps you ought to rethink that." Ace remarked solemnly as she closed the door behind her.
And with those words, he became the first to seal his fate.