Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of Graces f, or any other Tales game in this amazing franchise.
A/N: Welcome to my second Tales of Graces story! Not much to say here, but it's been a while since my first one. I hope everyone likes this one just as much, and I also hope I've kept the spirit of the characters as close to the canon as possible. Enjoy! Because, after all, who doesn't like a good old fashioned brotherly love fic?
"Perhaps you could write about the love between two brothers?" -Hubert Oswell (Tales of Graces f)
Ties that Bind
The night sky was dark and silent, the stars twinkling like tiny pinpoints of light in the heavens, and crouching next to the garden where Sophie was diligently planting her Sopheria flowers, the young swordsman known as Asbel Lhant closed his bright blue eyes and let out a soft sigh, his handsome face twisting into a mask of emotions.
Behind him, the Lhant manor loomed in the darkness, and the warm breeze ruffled his hair and sent the coattails on his white jacket dancing in the wind.
The road leading up to the manor was empty, and the only sound that could be heard was the flow of water cascading down from the fountains on either side of the mansion.
The quiet atmosphere seemed almost surreal, and getting to his feet Asbel took a moment to appreciate the silence. The entire town appeared to be sleeping, if the deserted road was any indication, and at that moment Asbel felt like he was the only person left in the world.
Dad...Why did I never take the chance to get to know you a bit better? If I hadn't spent so much time thinking only of myself...
It was a somber thought, and placing a hand against his disillusioned heart, Asbel bowed his head in silent respect for the father who had watched over him so carefully, even when his actions hadn't always warranted such close attention. There was no doubt his father had been a good man, and Asbel knew if he hadn't been so stubborn as a child, there was much he could have learned from such a diligent and competent individual.
A fine lord his father had become, but after paying a visit to his mother with Hubert earlier in the evening, it was only now that Asbel realized his dad had always been first and foremost a father in every sense of the word.
If only you would have opened up to me more. If only you would have let me see the real you.
As soon as the thought struck him, Asbel immediately shook his head to disperse it. If he hadn't been so naive as a child, he would have seen it for himself. It wasn't fair to blame his father for his own ignorance.
In that sense, Asbel knew the fault was his alone.
I know Mom just wants us to understand...and for Hubert's sake...
Asbel blinked as the image of his younger brother came to mind, and clenching a hand against his heart, he once again closed his eyes against the pain and regret that had settled deep within him ever since he had first encountered Hubert in Lhant. Currently their relationship appeared to be on better terms compared to their first meeting, but even so there was still so much left unsaid between them, and there was definitely still some room for improvement.
It was going to take some time, but Asbel wasn't going to give up. He would fix the relationship he shared with his brother, no matter how long it took.
Hubert, do you have any idea how happy I was to see you again? If only you knew how angry and hurt I was when I found out Dad had sent you away. If you only knew how much I worried about you...You have no idea what it felt like to think I'd never see you again...
Even in his head, the words were painful, and scrunching up his face to keep his emotions in check, he managed a shaky breath, doing his best to calm himself.
So many 'if onlys...'
You have no idea what it felt like to know that I had failed you. I'm the older brother, and I couldn't protect you. I couldn't be there for you when you needed me most of all. I know now Dad had good intentions, but even so...you left without knowing how I really felt about the whole thing, just like how you never really understood Dad's feelings on the subject. If only you could see how much I care...
Seven years was a long time to spend apart, and it wasn't always easy to leave the past behind. Asbel himself had ended up finding that out the hard way. He had so many regrets, and a part of him knew Hubert felt the same way. What Hubert needed now was simply time to get used to the idea of having his big brother back in his life again, and Asbel was willing to give his younger sibling that time if it meant it would bring them closer together again.
I guess...I should be heading back inside. The Captain and the others won't be happy with me if I'm too tired to be of much use on our journey to Fendel tomorrow morning.
They still needed to fix the cannon there so they could get the shuttle up and running for their trip to Fodra, which was to take place the next morning. Finding a cure for Sophie was still their top priority, and it weighed heavily on Asbel's mind. He had actually intended to go to bed early that night, but after receiving Lord Aston's diary from his mother, he had stepped outside to have a few moments to himself.
A few moments had turned into several hours, and he still was no further ahead than he'd been when he'd first left the manor to gain a bit of control over himself and his emotions. Here he was, still conflicted and unsure of himself.
And completely unable to sleep.
Could Hubert possibly be experiencing the same sort of feelings?
Only one way to find out.
Gazing one last time at the stars, Asbel turned his back on the gardens and proceeded to head towards the manor.
Taking his guests into consideration, he closed the door softly behind him and took a quick peek at the room to his right. Sophie had been moved down there earlier so the three girls could have the room to themselves. He could hear Pascal's loud snoring through the door, and no doubt Cheria was curled up next to the unconscious Sophie, keeping careful watch over the girl when she should have been sleeping herself.
The thought of his childhood friend brought a fond smile to his face, and making his way up the stairs, he paused on the landing to gently place his hand on the family portrait, his deep blue eyes taking in the faces of his flesh and blood and committing them to memory. Maybe it hadn't always been obvious, but Asbel loved them with all of his heart, and he would do everything he could to protect Hubert and his mother in his father's stead.
And in turn, he knew his father was silently watching over him.
Dad...I hope one day I can become the kind of man you would have been proud to call your son...
He still had a long way to go, but he was determined not to taint his father's memory by failing to become a man who was worthy of Lord Aston's respect.
I won't fail you. Not this time.
Glancing towards the door on the left side of the balcony, where his mother had retired for the night, Asbel gave a slight bow of respect and a telepathic 'I love you' before heading for the room he had shared with Hubert when they were children. Since the Captain had taken over Hubert's bed for the night, Asbel knew his brother was going to bunk with him, and though he didn't exactly have a problem with that per se, he couldn't deny that he was a bit nervous.
Especially now after having had the chance to read his father's diary. Though both himself and Hubert had only glimpsed a small portion of it in their mother's room, it had been enough to dramatically change their perspective on the last seven years.
Asbel wasn't quite sure what some alone time with Hubert would bring, and that was the reason why he was unsure of having to bunk with his brother. There was no denying he felt a tad bit apprehensive, and it frustrated him to the point of exhaustion.
This is ridiculous. Hubert is my brother. I've never found it hard to talk to him before.
Maybe not seven years ago, but both of them had changed a great deal since then. And if ever there was an opportunity to turn things around, now was the pivotal point in their relationship. It would be incredibly stupid to let an opportunity like this go to waste.
It's just Hubert. It'll be fine...
Steeling himself for whatever might await him on the other side of the door, Asbel slowly entered the room and paused on the threshold to get his bearings. The room was dark except for a single lamp burning dully on the nightstand between the two beds, and in the bed closest to the door Captain Malik appeared to be sleeping soundly, his boots and weapon having been cast aside for the evening.
Staring out the window with his hands folded together behind his back, the drapes having been pushed aside for a fantastic view of the night sky, stood Hubert, whose cobalt hair gleamed silver in the light of the moon.
Asbel paused at the sight of his brother, and closing the door quietly behind him, he hesitated, unsure of whether or not he should speak.
Thankfully he didn't have long to think on the matter because Hubert chose that moment to speak in his stead. "Where have you been?"
Asbel blinked in surprise at this, and realizing all of a sudden that the windows in his room faced in a different direction from the front of the house, thus Hubert would not have spotted him outside, he paused before saying,"I was just...thinking."
Hubert pulled the drapes shut with a quick snap, and turning from the window he sat down on the edge of the bed that had belonged to Asbel since he was old enough to leave the cradle. Hubert's tone hadn't exactly been all that encouraging, and barely sparing him a glance the young lieutenant offered a curt nod before focusing his attention on something that was lying on the bed.
What was that all about?
Giving himself a shake, Asbel moved to stand at his brother's side, wondering curiously what Hubert was looking at. He got his answer quickly enough when he spotted their father's diary lying atop the green comforter, and his heart jumped at the sight of it. He wanted to ask Hubert about the dairy, but for some reason his mouth refused to form the proper words.
"We have our work cut out for us tomorrow," Hubert said briskly, his sharp tone interrupting the pleasant silence of the room. "You should be getting some rest."
Asbel tilted his head to the side, and studying Hubert's unreadable expression, he said with feigned confidence, "If that's the case then shouldn't you be getting some sleep, too?"
"Indeed...perhaps I should be."
Hubert's tone was surprisingly soft, and it caught Asbel momentarily off guard. It was silly, but for some reason he felt like he needed permission to sit on his own bed, and realizing he probably looked like a complete fool, he continued to stand there feeling awkward and stupid, which wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't also felt like a total coward just then.
Come on, what's wrong with me? Stop standing here like an idiot and just sit already. This is your brother, not some stranger.
By some lucky twist of fate, Hubert must have sensed what he was thinking because the young lieutenant suddenly moved to sit back against the headboard, and always the tactful one, he crossed his legs to make some more space on the bed.
Taking Hubert's actions as an invitation to sit down, Asbel tentatively lowered himself onto the bed and turned slightly to face his brother, who was silently watching him in the gloomy darkness of the room.
The diary lay between them on the comforter, and glancing at the book, Asbel said softly so as not to disturb the Captain, "Have you read the whole thing yet?"
"No, I have not," Hubert replied a tad stiffly, the dim light from the lamp glinting off his square-rimmed glasses.
Asbel had to admit, he was a little confused about why Hubert had been reluctant to delve into the diary, and also a bit curious. "Why not?"
The barest hint of a blush began to creep across Hubert's pale cheeks, and without looking at him, the Strahtan lieutenant replied in a tone that was slightly defensive, "I thought perhaps...we could read it together. It's not an urgent matter, but if you have some time to spare during our travels..."
So that was why Hubert wasn't asleep.
He was waiting for me.
Asbel swung around so they were fully facing each other, and crossing his own legs for comfort, he smiled and said, "Of course. I...I'd really like that. Maybe once we've cured Sophie..."
"That's fine," Hubert said quickly, still keeping his face averted. "Sophie is without a doubt our first priority. I just thought..."
"You're not exactly low on the priority list yourself, you know."
Hubert's mouth fell open at this, and taking in the meaning of his words, Asbel watched as the blush on his brother's face deepened before the younger man quickly looked away again.
Yes, Hubert had changed, but underneath his cold and stingy exterior, the child he had been could still be glimpsed beneath the surface. Hubert could pretend all he wanted, but Asbel knew no matter how standoffish he tried to make himself, Hubert would never completely lose the shyness and sensitivity that defined him. He was sharp and blunt, and he was always quick to point out everybody else's mistakes, but that wasn't because he was arrogant. It was simply because he cared about the well-being of others, and he was worried about what would become of them if they failed to use their heads in dire situations.
Hubert was a genius, and Asbel had never hesitated to brag about it. Thus, deep down inside, Hubert was smart enough to know that he wasn't really fooling anyone.
Hubert's always been brave in his own way, even as a kid, but unlike me it isn't a reckless sort of bravery. That's why he makes such a good lieutenant. He uses his head, and he knows what he's doing. It's gained him the trust of many men in the Strahtan military, and rightfully so.
Thinking on Hubert in such a manner, it wasn't so hard for Asbel to believe that this uptight military leader was his shy baby brother, and for the first time since meeting up with Hubert in Lhant, Asbel felt that familiar sense of warmth and closeness that the two of them had shared when they were kids. It was a feeling that had not been present after their first meeting in Lhant, and the knowledge of that had saddened him more than he had been willing to admit to himself. But now, for the first time in seven years, things between them felt truly right in a way that could not be described with words, and though Asbel didn't know it as of yet, it was a feeling that would never be absent again.
"Would you like to hang onto it until then?" Hubert asked, holding out the diary to him.
Asbel was quick to decline, and sheepishly scratching the back of his head, he said, "You'd better hang onto it. Less chance it'll get lost that way."
"Indeed, which reminds me. Are you ever going to clean up your desk?" Hubert asked, glancing distastefully at the offending piece of furniture.
"Hey, I've been kinda busy here lately, in case you haven't noticed! I'll get to it...eventually."
"That wasn't a very reassuring answer, dear brother," Hubert said dryly, fixing him with a stern glare. "You will do it, and if standing over your shoulder the entire time you perform this task is what it takes to get it done, then I will not hesitate to do so."
In that military uniform of his, Hubert looked so regal and proper, and Asbel felt a sense of pride in being able to watch his little brother walk around with his head held high, especially since Hubert had been unable to do so in the past, but it was also nice to see his brother acting like the boy he remembered so well, and because of that he couldn't help teasing Hubert just a little bit. "You're such a nag, Hubert. Nice to see some things haven't changed."
"Somebody has to keep you in line," Hubert shot back, giving him a disapproving frown.
Asbel cheerfully nodded in agreement, and taking the diary from Hubert's hands, he studied it closely before saying quietly, "Are you still...finding it hard to forgive Mom and Dad?"
Hubert was silent for a moment, and when he spoke the playful atmosphere between them became somber and more subdued. "You have always been more quick to forgive than I. Unlike you, Asbel, it has never been easy for me to put my grievances to rest. I don't expect you to understand, but I cannot simply forget what it has felt like these past seven years to believe I had been abandoned by my own family. It will...take some time."
Asbel moved to sit next to his brother, and taking comfort in the feel of Hubert's shoulder squished against his, he gazed solemnly at the diary in his hands.
I wonder what else Dad couldn't bring himself to tell us.
"I'm sure there's more," Hubert said quietly, as if reading his mind. "I can only hope our father's actions prove not to have been misguided. It would be a shame if they were all for naught..."
Lord Aston and his older brother. Such a bitterly rivalry they had endured, and in the end it had cost them each other. Lord Aston had most likely regretted it to his dying day, so his actions were understandable, even if both Asbel himself and Hubert did not entirely agree with his methods. It made Asbel wonder what would have happened if he and Hubert had ended up the same way.
The thought made him shudder in fear, and conscious of Hubert sitting close beside him, he made a promise to himself right then and there.
I won't let that happen. I won't lose Hubert again. Dad sent him away because he didn't want us to end up hating each other. He didn't want us to suffer in a struggle over succession and a stupid title the way he did. No matter what the future holds, I won't let history repeat itself. I promise you, Dad. I won't let Hubert slip away from me.
After all, Hubert was right. It would be a shame if Lord Aston's efforts were to go to waste.
"Asbel?" Hubert asked a bit tentatively when he didn't receive an immediate reply. It was so unlike Hubert, and Asbel was quick to reassure his little brother.
And he did so in a way that only older brothers could.
Putting an arm around Hubert's shoulders and giving him an affectionate squeeze, Asbel smiled and said, "Do you remember when we were little and you used to get those really bad nightmares? You would always get really scared, and your screams were constantly waking me up in the middle of the night. If I recall, you were always begging me to let you sleep in my bed with me."
"You could have said no," Hubert said defensively, blushing at another one of the more embarrassing moments of his past.
"If I had said no, who would have protected you from all the nightmares?"
Hubert refused to look at him, but after a moment of embarrassed silence, he shifted slightly and muttered, "You used to build a fort on the bed, and then we'd sit up and talk for hours until we both fell asleep."
Asbel stared at his brother in surprise, and shaking his head in disbelief, he murmured, "You do remember."
"We're getting too big for that sort of thing now," Hubert said shortly, giving him a shove so he could pull back the covers. "And this nightmare we're in now is only all too real. Come, let's get some sleep."
Asbel quickly climbed under the covers himself, pausing only to remove his boots, and squirming to get comfortable he realized Hubert had made a good point. The bed was a bit small for both of them, and no doubt they'd be elbowing each other all night. Somehow, though, they were just going to have to make due, and as Hubert had said, there were more important things to worry about.
Reaching out, Hubert switched off the lamp, and setting his glasses on the nightstand with the diary, he made himself comfortable as best he could under the covers.
Asbel wasn't surprised to find that Hubert had turned his back towards him, and studying his younger brother's dark profile, he whispered, "You never did tell me what your nightmares were all about."
Hubert remained silent for the longest time, and just when Asbel thought he wouldn't receive an answer, a quiet voice in the night whispered back, "I used to dream that I was all alone. In my dreams I'd always be searching, but I could never find anyone. Mother and Father were always gone...and so were you. Ironic really when you think about it, as in the end my nightmares turned out to be very real."
Asbel suddenly felt as if there was a fist clenched around his heart, and reaching out to put a hand on Hubert's rigid shoulder, he said with conviction, "You're wrong. I'm still here."
"Indeed. I don't know how I'm going to get any sleep tonight. Your snoring is only slightly less annoying than Pascal's, and if my suspicions are correct you probably still haven't outgrown that bad habit you have of kicking people in your sleep. No doubt I'll have plenty of bruises in the morning."
"It'll be just like old times," Asbel teased, nudging his brother in the back.
"Just...like old times..."
Asbel nodded firmly, wanting to regain Hubert's trust. "I'm not going anywhere, Hubert. Not this time."
"Hubert, I...I know I messed up, but...if you'll give me the chance, I want to make up for it."
Hubert rolled around to face him, and moving closer so that their foreheads were pressed together, he whispered, "Goodnight, Brother."
Coming from Hubert, that qualified as a yes, and curling up on his side while facing Hubert in the darkness, Asbel gave his brother's shoulder a quick squeeze before closing his eyes and allowing sleep to take hold of him.
And in the bed on the opposite side of the room, Malik smiled as well before proceeding to follow Asbel's example.