karayan: Tales of Graces: Sophie (FLORIOGRAPHY IS SERIOUS BUSINESS.)
Mazoku ([personal profile] karayan) wrote in [community profile] tentacles2013-01-24 03:54 pm

[TALES OF GRACES] there's rue for you

Title: there's rue for you
Fandom: Tales of Graces
Rating: G
Word Count: 3620 words

Summary: Post-Lineage & Legacies, Asbel attempts to ignore his continuing uncertainties about his unofficial engagement. This goes rather poorly for him, until Cheria gets up the courage to do something she should have done a long time ago. Kind of Cheria/Asbel.



Asbel should have realized that something was up the moment he received the letter. He was growing slowly -- agonizingly -- accustomed to the twisted language of bureaucracy, but even so, the notice from the palace about the upcoming border inspection had seemed… off, somehow. Too perfunctory, yet oddly lacking in specifics.

But he had brushed the feeling aside in the rush to get both the manor and the necessary paperwork prepared for the visit. Not for the first time, he wondered if he'd ever feel suited to his duties as the lord of Lhant. At least dealing with an envoy would be talking to someone -- he was good at that. He much preferred dealing with people face-to-face, rather than from miles away and with ink on paper.

It didn't help that the one person he kept expecting to get a letter from still hadn't sent one. Cheria was busy with her relief work, he knew that, but not knowing when to expect her back in Lhant was driving him crazy. He'd finally told his mother that she should stop collecting marriage offers because he had someone in mind. Though he'd avoided specifics, Lady Kerri had been delighted to no end, which he suspected meant that she had a pretty good idea of what was going on. But the longer Cheria stayed away, the more a kind of dread started to pool in Asbel's stomach. There would be so much to do when she returned.

A dry cough nearly startled him out of his skin. Asbel jerked his head up from the document he'd been staring blindly at for the past five minutes to see Frederic standing at the door to the office.

"Master Asbel, the envoy from the capitol has arrived. Shall I send them in, or will you receive them in the main hall first?"

Lately, the office had been feeling like nothing more than a jail cell made out of paperwork, and Asbel was on his feet before Frederic finished speaking. "I'll meet them in the hall. We can always come back in here if the discussion gets sensitive."

Frederic nodded. "Very well, sir." He held open the door, and Asbel tried his best to exit the office with dignity, and not at all like he was fleeing it. He judged himself moderately successful in the endeavor, and emerged into the hall with a prepared greeting on his lips.

"Welcome to Lhant. I hope your journey was--" The words died in his throat with an undignified strangling sound the moment he caught a glimpse of the envoy. He should have known. The letter had been suspicious. He really, really should have known. "Richard?! I mean-- Your Majesty--"

Richard looked perfectly at home in the manor, a small party of the royal guard stationed intermingling with the Lhant family servants. At Asbel's stumbling words, he brought a gloved hand to his mouth to muffle a laugh. "Honestly, Asbel, is that how you greet an old friend?"

"You should have told me you were coming!" Despite the initial surprise, Asbel found himself grinning, worries about both politics and his personal life falling away in the overwhelming joy of seeing Richard again. He rushed over, knowing that Richard would only tease him if he tried to follow proper protocol.

"And miss the surprised look on your face?" Richard's own smile was soft but bright as he took both of Asbel's hands in his own. "Now why in the world would I do a thing like that?"

Richard's hands were warm, even through the gloves. It was nice. He'd spent so long seeing Richard in pain, both mental and physical, that seeing him healthy and happy was… well, it was great. That was all there was to it. Asbel gave Richard's hands a light squeeze. "Well, when you put it like that…"

"I have to take my amusements where I can," Richard said, his tone going mischievous. "And anyway, in the first place, sending some poor clerk to do a border inspection with you would just make everyone involved miserable. This is much more effective."

"Hey, are you implying something about my diplomatic skills?"

He was rewarded with another laugh from Richard. "Oh no, certainly not."

Before Asbel could think up a retort to that, Frederic spoke up. "Shall I have some tea brought to your office, Master Asbel?"

Without looking away from Richard, Asbel shook his head. "Why don't you bring it up to my room instead? I think we'll probably want to talk for a while before we get down to business. I mean, if that's okay with you, Richard."

There was a flicker of something in Richard's eyes at that, but before Asbel could do more than wonder about it, it was gone. "That sounds lovely," Richard said, finally letting go of Asbel's hands with a nod at Frederic. "Thank you."

---

"What I want to know," Richard said once they were both seated at the small talbe in Asbel's room with tea in hand, "is why I haven't received an invitation to your wedding yet."

Asbel, who had been in the process of taking his first sip of tea, choked. He barely managed to set the cup down and swallow his mouthful without spraying tea everywhere. Richard looked on with vague amusement. Face red, Asbel quickly tried to compose himself. "What are you--?" he croaked.

"Oh, come now. Surely you've proposed to Cheria. I've heard that Lady Kerri is no longer accepting inquiries from the flowers of Windorian nobility. And yet there's been no official announcement. It's very curious." Richard curled his fingers around the teacup, eyes fixed on Asbel. Though his tone was light, there was something searchingly intent about his gaze, and Asbel shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"Cheria's busy with her relief work right now. But when she comes back to Lhant…" Asbel trailed off, a familiar nervousness blossoming inside him. He tried to ignore it, and continued. "When she comes back to Lhant, she'll…. give me her answer. I think."

Richard's eyebrows shot up. "You think?" he asked, incredulity clear in his voice. "Asbel, I hesitate to ask, but just what exactly did you say to her?"

I asked her to come live with me and be Sophie's mother, Asbel thought. It had sounded awkward enough the first time he'd said it, and somehow, the thought of repeating those words so Richard could hear them was enough to make him feel sick.

Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, because Richard's expression softened. "I'm sorry. That's between you and her, isn't it? It's hardly my business." His eyes dropped to his still-untouched cup of tea.

"You don't have to apologize!" Asbel burst out, the sick feeling growing. "I don't want… I don't want you to think that you don't have a right to my personal life, or anything like that. It's just that everything's a little complicated right now." He pressed on, awkwardly. "Anyway, what about you? Last I heard you were fielding marriage proposals of your own."

"Touché." Richard dropped a sugar cube into his tea, giving Asbel a wry smile. "I'm afraid 'it's complicated' is a good way to sum up my situation as well, though perhaps for a different reason. Are you sure you want to hear about it?"

"I like hearing everything about you," Asbel said, honestly. Though he didn't want to think too hard about the reality of Richard's inevitable marriage.

Richard stirred his tea in silence, the spoon clinking against the china. Finally, he spoke, slowly, as though choosing his words carefully. "The difficulty is twofold. First, the woman in question must have the makings of an excellent queen for Windor."

Asbel nodded. Richard would need someone he trusted, with whom he could share some of the burden of rule without worry -- not just a noblewoman with her eyes on the throne. That much was obvious.

"And secondly…" Richard stared at his tea, then looked up at Asbel through his lashes with a faintly self-conscious air. "She would have to be comfortable with the fact that I would not be particularly interested in sharing either my bed or my heart with her, though of course there would be some necessity regarding the former. In light of that, I would not begrudge her any… arrangements she made for herself."

"What?" Asbel blurted, his mouth working faster than his brain. His could feel himself go red in embarrassment. That sort of thing was to be expected in a political marriage. But--

Richard laughed, though there wasn't much humor in it. "I'm not marrying for love, Asbel."

But still. "My parents were an arranged marriage for political reasons," Asbel said. "And they learned to love each other. You don't know for sure that the same thing won't happen to you." It could happen. It did happen.

"It is certainly possible." Richard gave him a strangely sympathetic look. "But I doubt it will happen in my case. I'm not particularly… interested in women."

Oh. Asbel opened his mouth, then closed it, feeling his face heat further. What could he say to that? He wasn't sure, especially with the way his heart was suddenly beating so fast. But at the same time, he didn't want Richard to think he was somehow uncomfortable with his admission. "In… that case," he managed, "it sounds like you've planned things pretty well. It's just a matter of waiting for the right person. But Richard," he insisted, as Richard looked like he was about to respond, "is that really okay? I want you to be happy. Even if you do end up marrying someone you don't love."

Richard took a moment to reply, instead simply regarding Asbel with a slightly lopsided smile that made Asbel feel oddly self-conscious. "You really don't change a bit, do you. Always worried about the happiness of others, even when you have your own problems to worry about. But you should be careful, Asbel. If you try to make too many people happy at once without thinking about your own feelings, you might not end up making anyone happy at all."

For a moment, all Asbel could do was stare at him. "Richard…?"

"Listen to me, making everything sound so serious!" Richard shook his head with a faint laugh. "Don't worry, Asbel. I'm sure everything will be fine for the both of us. What if I change the subject? How is Sophie doing? I didn't see her in the garden on the way in."

Something about Richard's airy cheerfulness seemed forced, but Asbel seized upon the opportunity to talk about something that comfortable for both of them. Thinking about Cheria and weddings could wait, when he had stories about Sophie's latest excursion with Pascal to share.

Besides, Richard was probably right. Things would be easier when Cheria came back to Lhant.

---

Except they weren't easier. At all.

For one thing, Asbel never got the letter he'd been hoping for to warn him in advance of her arrival. His first indication that Cheria was in town at all was when, about a week after Richard's visit, she walked through the doors of his office.

She had strode into the manor before she could even be properly announced and firmly planted herself in front of Asbel's desk, a look of grim determination on her face. He scrambled to pick up the paperwork he'd dropped in surprise when she'd entered. "I-- uh-- Cheria!" he stuttered, face gone red. He was panicking. She had just arrived, and he was already panicking. Shouldn't he be doing something? Like getting up and kissing her, or at least hugging her? How were sort-of-not-officialy-engaged-yet couples supposed to behave, anyway? "Welcome home," he decided on, awkwardly.

Cheria regarded him with an unreadable expression, her lips tight. "We need to talk."

Almost immediately, his heart started racing -- out of adrenaline. "Did something happen? Is everyone all right?" he blurted out, starting to rise from his chair.

"Everyone is fine," she said, not budging from her location. This close, and Asbel could smell her perfume -- or maybe it was just shampoo. Cheria didn't wear perfume, did she? How could he not know the answer to that question? "I meant that you and I specifically have to talk."

This is going to be about the wedding, Asbel thought, which did nothing to calm himself down. He had visions of ordering dresses from Barona, endless decisions demanded of him by his mother with regard to decor and food, invitations--

"Asbel Lhant," Cheria asked, "do you love me?"

Such an unexpected and direct question startled him. Cheria had always possessed a knack for cutting to the center of an issue, but Asbel wasn't used to that surgical touch being applied to his own emotions. "Of course I do," he said, almost automatically. And it was true, wasn't it? Cheria was one of his best friends. The two of them had gotten into trouble constantly as children, taken care of Sophie together, lived together on the road -- he loved her. It had to be love.

Cheria clasped her hands together tightly and took a deep breath. There was something behind her eyes that Asbel couldn't quite identify. "Then why haven't you ever said it?"

He opened his mouth to protest, to say those four simple words: "I love you, Cheria." But they sat wrong on his tongue. Something about it wasn't right.

A look of profound sadness crossed Cheria's face, but only for a moment. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "It's not that I don't believe you," she said, speaking quickly, as though each word pained her and she was doing her best to get them out as fast as she could. "I do. You love all of your friends, Asbel. It's just the kind of person you are." The last sentence was said with a tinge of bitterness. "You love me the same way you love Sophie, or Hubert."

Like family, was the unspoken accusation. Asbel thought back to his triplets of Lhant joke with a sick feeling. "That's not--"

"Asbel Lhant, would you just shut up and listen to me for once in your life?!" Cheria demanded, cutting off his weak protest. There were tears gathering at the corner of her eyes, Asbel noticed with a pang of guilt. "I-- I am not going to marry you, not that you even asked properly in the first place. I've spent my whole life pining after you, but that doesn't mean I'm going to marry you just because you need a wife and a mother for Sophie. And you are completely unbelievable for thinking I would in the first place!"

There was nothing Asbel could say to that. She was right, and he knew it. He should have felt heartbroken. Should have argued until he could convince them both that everything would work out fine if they just gave it a chance. But he didn't. Instead, it felt like someone had both lifted a giant weight from his shoulders and kicked him in the stomach at the same time. "Cheria--" he began.

She ducked her head, as though the motion could somehow conceal the tears streaming down her cheeks. "I love you, and I love Sophie. I'll always, always be your friend and her mother. I know you didn't mean to hurt me when you made your offer. But you're never going to love me the same way I love you, and I think it's time we both realized that. And way past time I got over it." She scrubbed at her face with her sleeve. "Jeez, look what you've done! Now I'm all red and puffy."

"I'm sorry," Asbel said, though he wasn't sure what he was specifically apologizing for. Maybe everything. "I just-- I'm really sorry."

Cheria looked up at him with a pained smile. "So am I. But I guess… some things just aren't meant to be. Do you know what King Richard told me?" After Asbel shook his head, she continued. "He said I shouldn't sacrifice my happiness to look after others. I'm sure he meant my relief work, but… I think he was giving better advice than he realized. Being your wife and knowing that you married me out of friendship and convenience is the biggest and worst sacrifice I could make."

It sounded like something Richard would say. Asbel hadn't known Richard had urged Cheria to pursue him -- something about that made his chest feel hollow. Rather than dwell on that, he looked at Cheria.

Even with her face blotchy with tears, a sad smile tugging at her lips, Cheria was beautiful. Asbel felt a familiar frustration at that thought -- she was so gorgeous, so smart, so kind. Why couldn't he love her? It would have been perfect. It should have been perfect.

For a long moment, the two of them just stared at each other. Finally Cheria broke the silence with a sigh. "Well. I feel relieved and completely wretched now."

It was enough to startle Asbel into an awkward, humorless laugh. "Yeah, join the club. So… you're dumping me?"

Cheria managed a faint smile. "You can't dump someone you were never dating, you idiot." There was regret in her voice, and Asbel felt sick. Once again, he'd hurt one of his precious people instead of protecting them. And in Cheria's case, he was just beginning to realize that he'd been hurting her for years in a way he'd never thought of.

He wanted to apologize again, but he was beginning to think that if he started now, he'd never be able to stop. There was too much to be sorry about. "I just… want you to be happy," he said finally, then nearly winced as he remembered his earlier conversation with Richard.

"I know you do," Cheria said. The tears had stopped, but Asbel could hear them lurking just behind her words. She shook her head suddenly, short pigtails swinging from side to side. "Don't worry about explaining things to Sophie. I'll take care of that."

"She's in the back garden," Asbel said. He didn't know what else to say.

"Okay." Cheria took another deep breath, visibly pulling herself together. "I also wanted to let you know that I'm not staying in Lhant for long this time. I need to… to get away from everything for a while. It's too painful, otherwise."

Asbel nodded mutely.

"I'll come see you before I leave," she continued, her voice growing ever so slightly steadier. "I just-- I can't be around you right now, okay? I'll go see Sophie." She turned and all but fled for the door.

"I'm sorry," Asbel said again, weakly. Cheria didn't react as she closed the door behind herself.

Once she was gone, he stood still, shell-shocked, for a minute or two. Had that really happened? His plans for the future had been destroyed in an instant. Not that that was a new sensation, exactly, but-- he sat down heavily at the desk. He didn't feel particularly bad about it. Guilty for hurting Cheria, of course, and unsure about what this meant for both of them in the long run, but… there was something freeing about it, too. Asbel dropped his head into his hands.

It had been for the best. Deep inside, he knew that.

---

Asbel didn't know how long he sat miserably in the office after Cheria left, only that the sky had darkened outside when the doors opened again.

"Asbel?" a quiet voice asked. "Can I come in?"

He raised his head, managing a tired smile. "Hey, Sophie. Come on in."

Sophie slipped inside, closing the door behind her. She was holding a flowerpot full of dark soil, her face was solemn. "Here," she said, and placed the pot on Asbel's desk. "This is for you."

He looked from the pot to Sophie's face, and back. "Uh… thanks, but what is it? It looks empty." Usually, Sophie only brought flowers already in bloom into the house, if she brought them in at all.

She shook her head. "It's not. Take another look."

Asbel peered at the contents of the pot. Sure enough, there was a little green sprout just barely poking its way out of the dirt. "Oh, you're right," he said, with some surprise.

"It's a peony," Sophie informed him. "The meaning of a peony flower is 'happiness.' It's not ready to bloom yet, but it will. Asbel, you're sad right now, but eventually you're going to feel better. It might take a while, though, just like this flower. So I'm giving it to you."

She reached out and gently patted him on the head. Asbel was dumbstruck. He'd thought that Sophie would be upset about Cheria, but instead she was handling it more maturely than he was. And trying to comfort him, too. It seemed like he was never going to learn not to underestimate her. He found himself smiling, ever so slightly. "I… thanks, Sophie."

"Cheria told me that she wasn't going to marry you, but that we're still family. She also said that she was mad at you, but that was okay, because sometimes you have to get mad at people before you can feel better and forgive them." Sophie returned Asbel's smile, though hers was more gentle. "So it's okay if you have to get mad too. Or if you just want to be sad for a while. I'll be here for you either way."

For the first time in a while, Asbel felt a sense of peace settle over him. "Yeah," he said, getting up from his desk and drawing Sophie into a hug. "I'll be okay," he said, and realized that he believed it.

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