Trades Chapter 12
"...Are you okay now?" Shu asked softly.
"Y-yeah," Apple responded, her voice muffled. She dried her tears, sniffling as he slowly let go of her.
There was a pause, and then Shu spoke. "I want to apologize for what happened in there."
"Shu......" Apple whispered, brushing aside her long bangs as she avoided his gaze.
"I'm sorry," he said. More silence. "It did appear that you were still dwelling on the past. And adding what happened in Lenankamp, I just assumed that--"
"Please..." she interrupted, her tone becoming a weak plea. "...tell me you didn't really mean what you said in there. I...I-I can't bear...knowing you still have such bad feelings...about him..."
Shu became silent once more. "No," he replied quietly after a while. "I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I suppose it was just a force of habit. But..." He paused to blink once. "...he is at peace now, Apple, and I was afraid you weren't accepting that. I could see the effect the locket was having on you, and--"
"No," she cut in. "I swear...it's not that."
"Then what is it?"
"I...I just didn't want to forget...that's all. I accept that he's gone, but I don't want to forget him. I don't want to forget that time I met up with him again during the Liberation War...it was just...so exciting for me. I was happy then, happier than I had been in a long time. You may not understand why, but I was. Shu, so much time had passed between my days as one of his students and then. With him back, it was...it was almost like...the part of me that had been missing had been finally restored." More tears shone in her eyes. "And then when he died, it just all felt apart once more. I couldn't stand that. That's why I began the biography. I couldn't let everything else die so soon. I couldn't let him die."
"But he is dead," he stated.
"I-I know.........." she whispered. "But.....I couldn't accept that for a while. When I found him at Toran Castle, Shu, all I could think about was how much I missed him already, and...a-and..." Her face began to grow warm, but her heart gave blessing to her next words. "...and how much I missed you............................"
"I guess, on some level, you were right..." She removed her specs, drying the interior of the lenses as she looked downward. "I-I mean, I was determined to move on. It's just...I didn't want to let everything go so fast. And if you hadn't found me tonight, I just may have carried on for even longer. I don't know. I can't seem to trust myself these days..." With an inaudible sigh, she put her glasses back on.
"I can't seem to trust myself either," Shu said, bringing his hand to a bright red spot on his face. "Remind me to watch what I say next time."
"I'm sorry I hit you," Apple told him with all sincerity.
"It was well-deserved. I shouldn't have said those things."
"Still, it was a bit much." Her eyes dimmed. "And I'm sorry for...saying what I said about you. I guess I was just...remembering how scared I was..."
Apple nodded. "Yeah. After losing Mathiu, you were the only one left. And then, back to when I thought you had died in the fire..." Her expression changed to one that seemed aggravated. "I was also thinking what an idiotic thing that was..."
Shu looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Well, Apple, I was just going by what you had taught me..."
Apple glared at him. "I know...! That's what makes you an idiot!"
They stared at one another in silence, but after a few seconds, the two broke into light laughter.
"Look," Shu began, his tone serious. "I don't intend for you to forget that time. I know it was special to you. So special, in fact, that..." He reached into his coat pocket, pulling out an item. "I don't think it's something you want to just toss away and move on without, at least, not yet."
"What's that?" Apple asked, curious.
He held it out to her. It was the locket.
Apple's eyes widened. "Oh..."
"I had it repaired while I was out," Shu explained. "I could tell it meant a lot to you."
"Shu......" Once again, her cheeks turned pink. "That's...what you were hiding from me earlier?"
"Well...yes, I was. I was going to give it back to you when I returned. I could tell you didn't want to let it go, and the memories that came with it. Even if I can't find much worth in it, I can tell that you do..."
"Oh, Shu..." Apple took the locket into her hands, studying it.
"And that's why...I'm going to say this. Apple, I don't think you should give up on the biography. From what I've seen, you've come quite far, and it wouldn't be right just to give up on it at this point."
"Well, it is almost finished..."
"That's what I mean. You had this mission. Instead of walking away from it now and wondering what could have been, I think you should complete it. That's the only way you'll ever truly be able to move on."
"You're right." Apple smiled at him. "Thank you. It means a lot to me to hear you say that..."
Beyond the gate, the man and woman were being watched. Viktor studied them, somewhat intrigued by the scene he had just witnessed. Now he looked as the two ended their conversation and embraced once more, and then walked back into the house.
Viktor let out a chuckle.
"I mean it," Apple was saying as they entered the living room. "If Master Mathiu saw you today, he'd be happy to see how you turned out."
"Apple..." Her words were somewhat embarrassing to him, though on some level, he couldn't help but have a sense of peace about it.
"Within...seven or so years, you became a trader, a strategist, and now, leader of a country..." She let out a sigh hinting that she was both amazed and depressed by these facts. "It's just...incredible. He'd be so proud of you, I know..."
Shu then responded with something to veer the subject away from him, but, on some level, to lift her spirits as well. "No...I think he would be proud of you."
This caught her by surprise. "Huh?"
"It's true I became a trader through my own efforts. But it was because of you that I became the other two. You did a lot in order to bring me to where I am today."
"Th-that's not true..." Apple stammered softly.
"It is. You did more than you'll ever know."
"I'll say," she muttered as her gaze fell. "I got a lot of people killed--"
"Now stop that," he started.
"Why?" she asked, looking up at him. "You said it yourself."
"You know I didn't mean it that way then," he told her. "Besides, you couldn't have known what was going to happen."
"I should have," she insisted. "Or at least had the guts to admit that I didn't. Yet I waited...for God knows how long. You were pretty close when I was at the fort. I should have gone to you then."
"Maybe," he said. "On the other hand, things turned out far better than I could have imagined. Besides, at the time, there was probably no way of reaching me. There was the business, and then the matter of the men by the sluice gate..."
"Yeah," Apple responded, looking uneasy. "Seems like they were standing out there for a good month or so, didn't it..."
Shu gazed at her, his eyes piercing into hers. "The point is, you don't give yourself enough credit. Don't talk to me about not having guts. It took a lot of guts to go to Viktor's fort and Muse, and then to Radat, putting up with my stubbornness in order to get me to join you."
"So I became a strategist," he interrupted. "So what? It was only because of you. Yes, there were people who died along the way. But if you hadn't been there, what do you think would have happened? Do you think I would have done anything about it? Of course not; I certainly didn't care. But you did." He drew closer, eyes locked on her. "It was you, Apple. You warned Viktor about the impending attack. If you hadn't done so, Viktor, Flik, Lord Riou, all of them--they may very well have perished. But with you, at least they were prepared to an extent. You helped save those lives, not to mention many other lives of the State, and I sincerely think that Master Mathiu would be proud of that today."
Apple was stunned into silence by his words. She looked up at him wide-eyed, cheeks burning, a warm feeling also inside her heart.
"And there's something else he would be proud of," Shu continued, putting a hand on her shoulder. "He'd be honored at having a biography written about him. I mean it, Apple. Don't ever give up on it."
"I'm back!" called Viktor, shutting the door behind him. He appeared in the next room seconds later. "So, what have you kids been up to?"
"Oh...n-not much," Apple told him, still in slight shock, turning away from Shu.
"Where's Flik?" Shu asked.
"He'll be back in a minute."
There was silence, and then Apple looked at the two men. "Uh..." she began. "...well, I think I'll turn out for the night. I'll see you two in the morning." With that, she turned and headed upstairs.
Viktor turned back to Shu with a chuckle when Apple had left. "Now really, what were you and your girlfriend up to?"
"Apple's just a friend," insisted Shu after a second passed.
"Ohhh...funny how I didn't mention Apple," Viktor said teasingly. "Great way to cover up the act there."
"We both know what you were implying."
"Heh heh. Yeah, so, anyway, what was going on between you two? Things got pretty intense out there, I saw."
"We got into an argument. We both said and did things we shouldn't have. But then we cleared the air between us."
"Uh-huh. What was that you gave her?"
"It was an old locket that broke and I had fixed."
"Heh heh heh. Interesting. What do you call that, a 'friendship' locket?" His words were mocking.
Shu let the ridicule slide, and only stared back at Viktor. "It was a locket that Mathiu once gave to her. I'm sure she wanted it back."
Viktor was confused. "Well, wait a minute. If he gave it to her, why do you have it?"
They stood there in silence for a few moments.
"...It's late," Shu stated finally. "I think I'll get some sleep."
Viktor turned as Shu walked right past him, in the direction of the stairs. "You didn't answer."
"There's nothing to answer to," Shu insisted, but had stopped and turned around to face Viktor.
Viktor looked back accusingly. "What, are you hiding something? It's just a simple question."
"...Yes, it is."
"So why can't you answer me?"
"Because the answer's not so simple."
The bear-like man became quiet, not knowing how to respond to such words.
Shu finally broke the silence. "At the end of the Liberation War, Apple lost the locket in her travels," he reluctantly explained. "I don't know who found it, but there was a woman who bought it from the shop in Banner. I was acquainted with her husband. He had a bad gambling habit, and at times it was both a burden and an embarrassment to her, as she already had enough to deal with. She was a frail woman, plagued constantly by a chronic disease. One day, she fell deeply ill, and needed money for treatments. However, she couldn't depend on her husband, as he was already well in debt. The locket was the last resort. But no one would take it."
"And that's when she asked you?"
Viktor shrugged. "Well...as complicated as their situation was, I don't see why it's hard for you to talk about it."
"I haven't told Apple."
Shu was hesitant. "Apple...seems to have a different idea in her head about how I ended up with it. Or rather, she just hopes differently. I don't want to ruin that."
"Heh, well, listen to you. Sounds like you're getting soft." He gave another small laugh. "But really, I don't think she would care how you ended up with it."
"Then you don't understand. The locket itself means a lot to her. I don't think she would be pleased to know it ended up in my possession by chance."
Viktor smirked. "More like fate if you ask me..."
A while later, Viktor had gone upstairs. During that time, Flik had returned and headed off to his room also, leaving Shu downstairs in his musings.
Finally, the young man decided it was time for him as well. He stood up from where he had been sitting and started to walk away, when he felt his foot colliding with something.
Shu looked down. It was the collection of notes for the biography Apple had been working on.
"I'd better return this to her..." he said quietly.
A few moments afterward, he found himself just outside her room, sealed folder in hand. He softly knocked on the door, but received no response. Hesitating, he opened the door, greeting darkness and a gentle gust of wind. "Apple?" he called out, his voice barely audible.
His eyes slowly adjusted to the soft rays of the moon, and he made his way to her nightstand, which was closer to the open window. He set the folder down, and then turned around.
There, a sleeping Apple lay in her nightgown, blankets at her feet. The young woman rested comfortably on her side, deep in a dream world.
Shu gazed at her for a while, remembering the many events involving the two of them, ones that had occurred not just in the past few years, but also the past few days. Namely, the times which served to bring them even closer. Before he realized it, there was a light smirk on his face.
And also, before he realized it, another breeze had entered through the window. He was unaffected, but after a while, Apple had begun to shiver, her facial features tensing. However, the wind was relentless, increasing in force. It swept across her legs and up her skirt, lifting the hem of her gown and momentarily giving him a view of what she was wearing underneath.
With his face growing warm, Shu turned from her and walked over to the window to close it. Then, finding his way back to her, he took a hold of the blankets, pulling them back over her.
Though still asleep, Apple seemed to appreciate the gesture. She mumbled something sounding like an expression of thanks, but he couldn't make it out.
Shu studied her for a bit longer, and then left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.
"Good night, Apple," he whispered as he headed off to his own room.