Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Namco or anyone who hold rights to Tales of the Abyss. It isn't mine, I'm just playing with it.
Spoiler Warning: Up to the search for Spinoza, with just the hint of a few smatterings of bits and pieces from later on to add flavor.
Jade smiled his thanks as Anise handed him a steaming hot cut of tea, hiding his amusement at her suspicious glare until her back was turned. Hardly daybreak and she was already suspecting him of something. Well, he would certainly have to accept that particular challenge then. It wouldn't do to disappoint her after all, now would it? And it might serve as a welcome distraction from the looming sorrow that would come to bear later on. It was plainly obvious that most of them hadn't slept well through the night, if at all. No rest for the weary, it seemed. And he well knew that the kind of ragged exhaustion they were all feeling would only exacerbate the situation. It would make their emotions run far, far too raw.
He, himself, was running a bit worn around the edges, as well, though far be it for him to let any of the others catch on. They'd all need some sort of authority figure on hand when they inevitably fell apart. He'd served well in that role in the past, might as well shoulder the unpleasant burden once more. He didn't really mind, not for them. But he was still quite tired, regardless, his sleep had been sparse at best, most of the night spent up and down while checking on his two charges.
There had been little change with Asch, perhaps just a cooler feel to his skin and a minute weakening of his pulse. Little things really, but it was always those small things that told the tale. There was scant hope that he would make it through the day, and hope was a currency that Jade Curtiss had little use for. Hope always turned to ash eventually. Hmph, what a bitterly amusing turn of phrase that. He felt... resigned about the entire affair. True, he spared the young man what sympathy he could manage to dredge up. He hadn't deserved any of this, not by any stretch of the imagination, but he would never dare to feel pity for him. Asch would not have appreciated that sentiment at all, of that he was certain. Grief, on the other hand, was an emotion he had always ultimately failed at. He had always been something of a monster, after all. Grief didn't quite work the same way in his mind as it did in others. But that was all right, the cold fury would make up for the lack. If any of the others thought that they could get to Van Grants first, then they would be sorely mistaken. He had every intention of killing the man, and in as fitting a manner as possible at the hands of the Necromancer. No one ever did this to people he might possibly consider friends, and certainly never to the young ones. And if he had to give in to the fiend that lurked within for a bit to prove that particular point, then he'd be more than happy to oblige it. But that was something to ruminate upon later. He didn't want to get ahead of himself just yet, there was still far too much left to do.
Luke's continued state of unconsciousness, on the other hand, concerned him. There really was no telling what might be going on in his head. The introduction of Lorelei's will to the quite tangled equation that was Luke fon Fabre added far too many unknown variables to the mix. He didn't like that. There was no way to know just what might be happening to him, or what would happen when or even if he woke up. There was even a possibility that he may not even be Luke anymore. And that bothered him, far more than he'd like to admit. He had grown rather fond of the idiot, after all. But no, he wouldn't borrow trouble just yet either, not until he was certain there was a problem.
Jade sighed wearily, blowing a cooling breath into his teacup before taking a sip while he watched the others with vague interest. Natalia had unsurprisingly made a beeline for the bed the instant she had entered the room and was even now sitting vigil. He would have to talk to her soon. It would be better for her if she was at least somewhat prepared ahead of time for what would eventually come to pass. The pain would still be as great, of course it would, but at least that way it wouldn't be quite so much of a shock.
Tear in the meantime was sitting vigil as well, but instead it was Luke that she regarded with worry. She seemed quite purposefully set upon not looking at Asch or Natalia, or even in their general direction. Guilt perhaps? It would stand to reason. It had been her brother that had brought them all to this point, though it was hardly her fault. But pain was pain regardless, and it tended to be quite excruciating to come to the realization that your beloved sibling was a horror. His own sister could more than tell that particular tale, and tell it well she did to those whom she thought it might concern the most. He didn't blame her one iota for informing Luke of some of the more unsavory things in his past. It was a hard earned lesson, one that should be remembered. And there was always that risk of backsliding, especially if people like the Commandant pushed him a little farther than he was willing to allow.
But on that note, he was rather... concerned about Tear's mental health, her fragile mental health. He more than realized that she was well past her breaking point, in fact, there had been that little incident when her sanity had gone a bit haywire when she had pulled Asch free of the hyper resonance. He wasn't sure that she could manage to hold it together if Luke did not return to the land of the living, or if he was no longer Luke when he did. It was a cause for concern. They'd still have need of her later, even if everything they had done up to this point all came to naught. And she was still a... friend. She deserved better than what her brother had given her, they all did.
Guy, on the other hand, was a less worrisome problem, and was, in fact, turning out to be an interesting study. The man was remarkably quiet, though Jade had a sneaking suspicion as to the reason for that. Oh, he was worried about Luke, frightfully worried. But it wasn't that which had caught Jade's notice. It was the occasional glances he stole at Asch when he thought no one was looking that were engaging, very guilty and conflicted glances. By his own admission, Guy had wanted to kill Luke fon Fabre from very early on, and he very much doubted that Gailardia had been the most pleasant of people to the child who had eventually become Asch. In fact, the cool and acute mistrust that Asch had exhibited towards Guy in the past had more than proved that particular point. What ever could he possibly be feeling now that his old, twisted hatred would finally be seeing its detestable fruition? Even though it might not be at his hands, death would come all the same. And by the looks of it, Guy was not enjoying the taste of this reality, not in the least.
Good. They didn't need another monster in their midst, Jade was more than enough in that regard, and quite a well aged vintage at that.
And then there was Anise. Dear, sweet and thoroughly precocious Anise would not break from this. It would take far more than he cared to consider for that to occur. Not that he wasn't worried about her, he was always worried about her in one manner or another. She did have the occasional, alarming lapse in judgment that invariably got her into trouble. And while she was more than equipped to get herself out of any trouble she might find, it tended to fall to him to patch her up again afterwards. And it wasn't really even that which concerned him at the moment, he knew that she wouldn't go off and do something stupid as a result of this. But she was still so very young, regardless, and this sort of harrowing experience could warp even the most steadfast. He didn't want to see her change too much because of it.
Not that she was exhibiting any sort of odd -well, stranger than normal- behavior on this rather dreary morning. She had quite readily hustled the others up to Ion's quarters before abruptly vanishing, but had returned a short time later with a reluctantly received array of breakfast items. Frankly, the tea had been the biggest hit out of the entire thing, not that their aversion had phased her any in the least. After handing tea off to him, and giving him that amusingly suspicious look, she had gone over and roused Ion, had then propped up the drooping Fon Master and was even now force feeding muffins to him. She might be a former Fon Master Guardian, but she still took her job quite seriously. He had always found it entirely too entertaining to watch her bully Ion around with such apparent ease. The poor boy would be forever doomed to having an overly intimidating caretaker. It was probably a good thing that he actually needed someone to do that. He could be a bit of a pushover at times. Though, last night he had appeared, for all intent and purpose, exceedingly furious about what had happened in those rare, brief moments when their heavy burden of impending grief had lifted. Interesting.
Ion's state was another, smaller point of concern for him, but he doubted very much that the Fon Master would break either. In a way, he was almost as strong as Anise, it was just a different sort of strength. But this unpleasant event was wearing on him a great deal. Though perhaps Jade had been the only one to witness the extent of it.
It had been the middle of the night and he had been dozing, sleep having briefly deigned to visit him for a few moments in between checking up on his hapless charges, but he had woken instantly at the soft rustle of cloth. Ion's own rest had been disturbed frequently during the night, so he had hardly been surprised to see the young Fon Master rising from his cot. His curiosity had been piqued, however, when Ion had glanced his way surreptitiously before soundlessly making his way over to the bed. The Fon Master rarely did anything in secret, in fact, he was dreadfully open about things most of the time, more than someone in his position really ought to be. So it had been a bit strange, and thus, being his usual nosy self, Jade had stayed quiet and simply watched.
He had never heard Ion sing before, nor had he ever heard the lay that Ion had softly sung as he had leaned over Asch, one hand placed over his heart and the other gently brushing over the God-General's forehead and into his hair. An ancient last rite of some sort? He'd really had absolutely no idea what it was, which was a truly rare occurrence. And yet, despite his unease at being faced with something unknown to him, it had been strangely soothing. And yet, still an excruciatingly painful experience nonetheless. Very odd that, both comfort and agony present in one single melody. And if he never had to witness something like that ever again, he would be content. There were still things in the world it seemed, few though they might be, that could disturb even him, and that song, whatever it was, happened to be one of them.
Jade gave himself a little shake at the direction his mind was going and swiftly finished off his cooling tea. No, he would not think about that right now. It would get him out of sorts somewhat, and he couldn't afford that at the moment. Perhaps later, when he truly had a little time to himself. But not now. Sighing soundlessly, he set his empty teacup aside and climbed to his feet, straightening his uniform unconsciously before resolutely heading across the room to Natalia. Might as well get it over with, she deserved to be informed of the unpleasant truth before anything else happened. He nodded somberly at the stricken look on Guy's face as he passed the man. They well knew what he was about to inflict upon her. Someone had to do it.
The princess paid no heed to the others in the room, and apparently hadn't been for quite some time. She was hunched forward slightly, her hands resting on Asch's right arm, which was the first indication that she was doing something that Jade probably wouldn't have approved of. Natalia was a princess, after all, regardless of the questionable claims that had been presented about her birth thanks to Grand Maestro Mohs, and good posture had been ingrained into her even before she could walk. He really ought to arrange an appropriate death for Mohs sometime soon, Jade thought absently as he curiously peered down at Natalia. Making her doubt herself in such a vicious and uncouth manner was thoroughly unacceptable. A little backsliding on his part in this case wouldn't hurt anyone, except the people he wanted it to.
He couldn't see her face from this angle, but he didn't really need to see it to know that her eyes were closed, he could recognize a healing trance easily enough. Oh dear, perhaps he should have done this earlier. "Natalia," he called softly as he leaned over her and grasped her shoulders, "I don't think-"
"Please don't," she murmured quietly, her words barely audible even to him, "I'm not blind. I just... thought that if I eased some of the pain that it might make it easier for him."
Jade frowned, more at himself than anything else. Foolish of him to not realize that she would have figured it out already. She may have seemed incurably naive when they had first met, but she had grown more than a little throughout their journey. As she said, she wasn't blind, not by a long shot. She well knew impending death when she saw it. Bowing his head in acceptance of her words, Jade whispered, "Very well princess, do as you see fit."
"Jade?" she called out quietly just as he was about to leave. When she was sure that he was listening, she hesitantly asked, "Does it bother you?"
Jade couldn't help but smile humorlessly at the question. He couldn't blame her for asking. He was quite adept at hiding those sort of reactions and often came off as a very cold and callous individual despite his rather bizarre sense of humor, and even to those whom he called friends he seemed off. He leaned closer, his lips almost brushing against her hair, and for the first time in a very long time, Jade Curtiss answered a question about his own emotions honestly, "I don't show many things to many people, Natalia, but yes, it does bother me, more than you will ever know."
She nodded her understanding after a few moments, and though he couldn't see it, she smiled sadly through the pain.