(A/N: First time on this fandom, but boy do I like it! Apologies for any OOCness or discontinuity between video game and this story. I only watch my brother play it occasionally, or sometimes pick up a controller myself.)
Lhant. Gorgeous weather, friendly people, wonderful flowers...
And a lot of couples.
Sophie stared, intrigued, at the boy and girl in front of her who were currently clutching at each other, lips on lips. If she wasn't mistaken, that was a kiss. Every couple she saw was usually in the middle of it while she was passing by. Sometimes, if she studied the faces of the bystanders around her, she would notice that they looked appalled or disgusted.
She wondered why. If two people were happy doing something, why begrudge them?
She had once made the mistake of asking Hubert on the matter. He only rose to the tips of his toes, thrust out his fingers, and cried: "It is an affront to public decency! Proper citizens should know better than to engage in such activities within full view!"
(This only served to confuse Sophie later, as she caught him heatedly kissing Pascal in the center of the wide-spread garden in his Strahtan residence. Especially as the garden was far from private. But she shrugged and thought nothing of it, supposing that Hubert had simply misunderstood her question.)
"Asbel," she said presently, "Why do couples kiss so much?"
She had expected an interesting response, but what she got was far more than that. Asbel lurched forward, spewing the glass of water he had been attempting to imbibe all over the carpet, his eyes round and shocked. "H-huh?"
"Whenever I walk around Lhant there are always couples kissing," Sophie said innocently. "Why?"
"U-uh..." Asbel quickly regained his composure. "I... I guess it's because it makes them happy."
"Happy," Sophie murmured to herself. Happy. Kissing made couples happy. "Then, does that mean..."
"Hey Sophie, I gotta go," Asbel said quickly, tripping over his chair as he got up far too fast. "It's Cheria's birthday in a few days, and I haven't gotten her a present. I'll answer when I get back, okay? Bye!" And he raced out the door, leaving Sophie to ponder in silence.
If kissing made couples happy, it was quite obvious what she needed to do. She had to get Asbel and Cheria to kiss. Asbel always looked so stressed, and Cheria would sometimes gaze into the distance with a sad smile; this was a way for them both to be happy!
The only question was how.
Sophie doubted she could enlist Hubert's help—he was a very busy man—or Pascal's help—she was currently investigating some newly discovered valkines or another. Richard was out of the question, since there were riots going on in some city that he needed to attend to.
That only left Malik.
He was rolling on the ground laughing by the time she had finished her proposition. Frankly, she wasn't sure if she should be offended or if she should laugh with him. Cheria seemed to do much of the former, while Asbel much of the latter, and Hubert did nothing at all and Pascal often did not even notice they were laughing. Sophie did not know how to act in this situation.
"Should I laugh too?" she asked Malik curiously as he stumbled to his feet, clutching his stomach and struggling for air.
"I don't know, but what I do know is that this will be quite entertaining." The grin on his face makes her smile.
"I think it will make them happy. Don't you, Captain?"
"You have no idea, Sophie. You have no idea."
The decided date was Cheria's birthday. When Sophie inquired the reason, Malik only waved his hand and said that Cheria happened to be born on a day where ducks often fall from the sky to signify luck. Sophie, wishing to have as much luck as possible on her side, agreed. (When she did so, Malik's face scrunched up very hard, like he wanted to laugh but could not; Sophie decided to think nothing of it, since Malik often made that face whenever she agreed with him on something he said.)
Sophie noticed that Asbel appeared to be avoiding her. At mealtimes he was relaxed and friendly, but if she ever visited him without appointment he would jump and quickly make an excuse to run away. It was somewhat disconcerting, but Sophie had a hunch that it was due to the question of couples kissing and resolved to fix the problem by Cheria's birthday.
"Aww, Sophie, don't worry!" Pascal cooed when Sophie told her the problem. "I'm sure it's just Asbel being Asbel. He can kinda get all blargh! and grah! and moohoo! over the randomest little things, if ya know what I mean."
Sophie only nodded and returned to scheming with Malik.
Before the kiss was to happen, Sophie had to inquire Cheria her opinion. After all, Sophie wanted Cheria to be happy, and if the kiss somehow went wrong, it might make both Asbel and Cheria very unhappy, and that would be all Sophie's fault.
"Cheria," she began, "what do you think of being kissed?"
Cheria did not jump or spit out the beverage currently in her mouth (hot chocolate, as it were) but gazed at the clouds above with a dreamy smile on her face. "I think it would be very nice." She started slightly. "By the right person, that is."
"Is Asbel the right person?" Sophie asked curiously.
Cheria flushed as red as her hair. "W-w-w-what? Asbel? Um... Well... Uhh..."
Sophie attempted to interpret the rather ambiguous answer. Did that mean that she was averse to the idea of kissing Asbel? Or did that mean that Sophie had guessed right? Or did that mean, 'I wish I could tell you, but he's right here'?
It appeared to be the last one.
"Hey Sophie! ...Um, hey, Cheria..."
"Hey, Asbel," Cheria said softly. Sophie noticed that she ducked her head slightly.
Asbel shifted uncomfortably. "What brings you here?"
"Oh, the usual. The hot chocolate is killer, you know." Cheria grinned and lifted her mug, gesturing at the restaurant behind her. "Care to sit down?"
"Oh, su—Oh, well, actually, um, there's stuff I need to do."
Sophie decided that Asbel was lying. He had even been moving forward to sit down before a strange expression crossed his face and he jerked backward.
Cheria frowned, obviously disappointed. "I... see. Being lord and all?"
"Uh, yeah. Something like that." Asbel coughed.
Sophie noted the strange atmosphere and decided she didn't like it. "Asbel, why are you lying? Cheria and I won't hurt you. You can sit down."
Asbel laughed weakly. "It's not that, Sophie. I know you and Cheria won't hurt me."
"Then what is it?" It was Cheria's voice—surprisingly cold and hard. Sophie clenched her hands under the table. It was easy to sense that a fight was about to happen; she only hoped that it wouldn't take long and it wouldn't be serious.
"Oh, you know..." Asbel trailed off, obviously pushing his brain for a reasonable excuse.
"No, I don't know." Cheria stood and placed her hands on her hips. "Why are you avoiding me? Tell me, Asbel!"
"I'm not avoiding you!" Asbel protested.
"Yes, you are." Cheria stepped closer, her brows bearing down on her forehead. "Whenever I try to talk to you, you practically run away!"
Cheria waited, but Asbel said nothing more. "Just what? Coincidence? I don't think so, Asbel Lhant!" She stepped even closer; this time, with pain in her eyes. "Come on... Can't you just tell me? What is it? Is there something wrong?"
"No, there's nothing wrong," Asbel said, so quickly and earnestly that Sophie wondered at his sudden change of attitude. "It's just... Cheria, I... I really..."
Then he swallowed and shivered and turned on his heel, striding back down the cobblestoned path whence he had come.
Cheria sank back into her chair, shakily sipping at her hot chocolate. When she met Sophie's eyes, she was smiling, but Sophie was startled to see tears making their way down her cheeks.
"Cheria," Sophie said softly.
"Sophie... Do you think I could be alone for a moment?" Cheria whispered.
As Sophie left to look for Malik, she became more convinced than ever that the kiss must happen. Asbel and Cheria were obviously sad, and she wanted so badly for them to be happy.
The day of the operation came sooner than Sophie thought it would. Time had flown, as she was making so many preparations for Operation Happiness. Prior to this day, Sophie would have never guessed that it would take so much work to make two people kiss.
"Especially those two," Malik mused. "Their feelings for each other are quite obvious."
"Captain, do you think this plan will work?"
"Well, we'll know by the end of today, won't we?" Malik mussed her hair affectionately. "Now, you remember the plan?"
"Yes. When the doors open to Cheria's house, we'll stop Asbel from coming inside."
"We'll keep him away until Cheria gets worried and goes to look for him, or gets sad and goes to her garden."
"And while that happens?"
"We will tell Asbel that Cheria is in trouble to make him feel protective."
"I will run into the lake and flap my arms saying, 'CHICKEN! CHICKEN!"
Malik stared at her in bewilderment. "What? Since when was that part of the plan?"
"You wrote it here," Sophie said, showing him the list of steps for their plan.
Malik looked pensive. "I think we can erase that step."
"Really? Okay." Sophie scribbled the item off the list and gazed at the next bullet point. "When Cheria leaves, we take Asbel with us to see her."
"And then they'll have their alone time," Malik finished.
Sophie liked the plan. It seemed like a good, workable plan. But... "Captain, what if Asbel and Cheria don't kiss?"
Malik grinned. "Didn't you forget the first step, Sophie?"
Sophie gazed at the list in her hands. Forget a step of the plan? Where?
Then she saw it:
1. When Cheria's doors open, keep Asbel from going to the party.
(Optional: spike the punch.)
The plan went quite smoothly, or so Malik said. Sophie, on the other hand, thought it had been quite the disaster.
The beginning was fine. The party had started, and Sophie had managed to detain Asbel with excuses for around an hour. When he began to go to Cheria's house, Malik knocked him upside the head (very carefully so Asbel wouldn't be hurt) and they carried him to his own basement.
When Asbel came to, they spun a tale that Cheria was in trouble and her captors had threatened to kill her if they made a single move. Sophie felt horrible while they were practicing the story and asked Malik if it was necessary.
"Well," Malik said, "we knocked him out and tied him to a chair in his own basement. I don't think we can just let him go without having a good reason for knocking him out in the first place."
Asbel quickly became hysterical upon hearing the story. He struggled against his bonds, screaming Cheria's name, attempting to get to his sword, tipping over his chair until he fell unconscious again.
"I think this is making Asbel very sad, Captain," Sophie murmured. "I don't want Asbel to be sad."
"They'll be happy in the end," Malik assured her, although he himself was beginning to look a bit guilty.
When Asbel came to again, Sophie couldn't stand it and told him that Cheria had broken free and they could look for her now. It was risky, because the party had been going on for scarcely three hours, and some parties lasted for days; Cheria might still be in her house.
The minute they untied him, he bolted up the steps and into the cool night air, Sophie and Malik struggling to keep up with him.
As they foresaw, Cheria was in the communal garden, staring at the flowers in a very forlorn manner. Sophie realized with a pang that they had made Cheria very sad too; her nose and eyes were red from crying. When she heard Asbel's frantic footsteps, she drew herself to her feet, rubbed at her face, and bestowed a very angry look, as if she were about to scold Asbel for being so late. It was obvious he would have none of it, though; he sprinted to her and crushed her against his chest, burying his head in the top of her hair.
"You idiot," he muttered. "Idiot, idiot, idiot!"
Cheria seemed like she was about to collapse from shock, but she managed to form a reply. "W-what? Who, me?"
"Yes, you." Asbel drew back slightly, surveying her face before once more drawing her to him, wrapping one arm gently around her waist and the other over her shoulders. It seemed to Sophie that he was too relieved that she was alive to say anything harsh.
Cheria seemed confused, but her arms wrapped around his lanky body and she smiled into his shoulder. "Asbel, why are you like this?"
"You scared me, you idiot." Asbel drew back. "I thought... I thought I would never see you again. I thought... I thought that I'd failed to protect my friends... again."
A strange expression crossed over Cheria's face and she pushed him away. "Protecting... your friends? That's... You mean... You were worried because you thought you didn't protect a friend."
"What? No! I mean, yes... but no." Asbel laid his hand on her arm. "I thought you were dead, Cheria... I thought you were gone for good."
Cheria looked incredibly puzzled. "What? Why would I be?"
"H-huh? What do you mean?"
Malik leaned over Sophie's shoulder to whisper in her ear. "And this is the part where we make our escape."
"But that wasn't in the plan," Sophie said, puzzled, but Malik was already gone. Sophie decided to hide in a nearby shrubbery, for she was curious if Asbel and Cheria would kiss.
Thankfully, Asbel did not seem to see her; he only turned to Cheria, at a loss for words. "Sophie—she said—and the Captain—they—and you—"
Cheria sighed. "It must have been a joke or something, Asbel. I'm absolutely fine. I've been at the party this whole time." She laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. I know you'd do this for any friend."
Asbel seemed momentarily stunned at the fact that everything he had been told in the past two hours were lies.
"Wanna come inside?" Cheria was smiling, but something about it didn't seem right to Sophie. "We have some really good punch."
She turned around and began to walk back to her house. Sophie fervently wished that Asbel would take initiative, but he seemed frozen.
Please move, Asbel!
Miraculously, he did, rushing behind her and pulling her back into his arms.
"Yes, Cheria," he whispered. "I would have looked for any friend... but you, you're... you're... you're special."
It seemed like it took a lot of energy to say that; it came out all at once, each syllable tumbling over the other.
Cheria was stock still in his arms. "A-Asbel..."
"Cheria, tell me. Why were you crying?"
Cheria was silent for awhile, like she was measuring something very, very carefully and could not be interrupted. When she spoke, her voice was soft but firm.
"Because I'm in love with you, Asbel Lhant."
Asbel let go of her, shock written plainly across his face. Cheria stood there, head bowed, eyes fixated on the ground.
She looked straight into his eyes, and it seemed to Sophie that they were talking without words. When Asbel did speak, his voice was shaking with so much intensity that Sophie almost felt blown back.
"When they said you might be killed... I couldn't think." He stepped closer, gently taking Cheria's wrist. "Yeah, I would've worried for any friend, but you, Cheria..." He made a peculiar sound like a cross between a snort and a laugh. "I became hopeless. What if they killed you? I'd never see your smile again. I'd never see you helping others. I'd never see you fuming at Malik or scolding Pascal or laughing with Sophie. You would just be... gone."
Both Cheria and Asbel were breathing very fast now, like they had run from Strahta to Fendel, but, as Sophie knew, they hadn't. She found it peculiar, but beautiful in the strangest way.
"Cheria..." Asbel pulled her closer until they were less than a foot apart. "You... You've been so important to me. You are so important to me. You've been there when I feel great or feel down, when I know what to do or don't know what to do... I can't even begin to tell you how lost I felt when I thought you were captured, when I thought of how you were feeling or where you were or what was happening. Cheria, I..."
He looked up at her eyes and jerked back. "Ch-Cheria! Why are you crying?"
"Because I'm happy, you idiot," she mumbled. "You have no idea how long I've waited for you to say that."
"I'm not done yet."
Again, the intensity in Asbel's voice was startling. Sophie almost felt a chill crawl up her spine.
"Cheria, I... I..." Asbel's arm tightened around her; their noses were almost touching. "I love you, Cheria."
Cheria only stared at him, her eyes wide in disbelief. Sophie saw her breath was almost impossibly fast, clouding in the cool night air, ghosting over Asbel's lips.
Asbel reached up and gently smoothed her tears away from her eyes, smiling gently at her. Then his eyes suddenly flickered down to her lips, and his smile faded.
Sophie calculated that they stood there for 7.344 seconds in silence, just looking at each other, Asbel's arm around Cheria's waist, Cheria's arms over Asbel's shoulder. Both of their faces were becoming increasingly red, and Sophie did not know why. She didn't think the air was that cold; although then again, she was always dressed in long sleeves.
Sophie also did not understand why Asbel and Cheria were not kissing. Didn't couples kiss because it made them happy? And no one was around, so they wouldn't be an 'affront to public decency.' So why were they just standing there?
8.635 seconds... 9.071 seconds...
Suddenly, with startling speed and ferocity, Asbel and Cheria crushed their lips together. It appeared that they both had wanted to do this for quite some time.
"Time to go. Now's when they really need their privacy."
It was Malik; he had come back.
"Captain, how long have you been here for?" Sophie asked curiously.
"Just now," Malik said. "Come on, kid. I have a bad feeling that we'll be regretting this by tomorrow."
Sophie was banned from crablettes for a week.
One. Whole. Week.
She knew she deserved it; although Asbel and Cheria were very happy now, she had made Asbel very sad by lying to him, and she had made Cheria very sad by keeping Asbel from going to her party. Truthfully, Sophie felt a little better because she was being punished.
Malik, well... Asbel and Cheria couldn't ban him from crablettes, but they refused to speak to him for the same amount of time. It wasn't an angry silence, just a silence that punished Malik just enough, since they never responded to the facts he made up.
When Asbel and Cheria announced that they were officially courting, Pascal cooed, Hubert nodded, Richard smiled, and all of them said, "Finally!" Malik and Sophie only exchanged a triumphant glance.
"But Captain," Sophie asked, "what did you mean by 'spike the punch'? What if people drank it? Wouldn't their mouths hurt?"
"That's not quite what it means," Hubert answered for Malik, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "To spike something is to add alcoholic content to a beverage that, ordinarily, has little or none." He suddenly paled. "Sophie! Captain Malik! You don't mean to say... You spiked the punch at Cheria's party?"
"We decided against it," Malik said calmly, "since there were kids coming to the party."
Hubert looked distinctly relieved. "That was good judgment. I cannot imagine what would have happened if someone became... heavily intoxicated." He coughed into his sleeve. "People tend to... behave strangely, as it were... with excessive amount of alcohol in their system."
"Hubert, when you kissed Pascal, were you drunk?" Sophie asked curiously, recalling the scene she had witnessed in the garden some time ago. Then it would make sense why Hubert went against his very own concerns for public decency.
Hubert began to splutter and turned impossibly red. "K-k-kissed? Pascal? H-how did you...?"
"You did it in the garden," Sophie offered. "Were you drunk?"
"Er... Well... That is, um..."
"Yes, he was," Malik translated, looking quite amused.
"C-Captain Malik! I'll have you know that, as a Strahtan lieutenant—!"
"Hubert doesn't seem happy," Sophie observed.
Malik looked thoughtful. "You're right. And you know what would make him happy?"
"A kiss from Pascal?" Sophie asked.
Hubert spluttered. "R-ridiculous! Everything, ridiculous! How could you possibly assume—?"
"Exactly," Malik said. "Go get Pascal."
Sophie nodded obediently and wove through the crowd that had gathered for Asbel and Cheria's courting announcement, searching for Pascal's telltale hair or scarf.
"C-Captain Malik! You must cease your misleading education! Telling Sophie that—! Saying that—! Pascal isn't—! We aren't—! Well! You may set her in front of me and I won't move a muscle! Or—or perhaps I may, but only... only to escape! Well, perhaps not to escape, but... But at the very most, I will only shake her hand in greeting! ...Why do you find this amusing? Stop smiling! Stooooop!"
F I N
(A/N: Please review? :D)