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.
When Asch had told him to go to the sea, Luke would freely admit that he had been expecting something a bit more colorful. Certainly not something quite so gray. But gray was about all it was: the beach was gray, the ocean was gray, even the sky was gray. Gray and cold. Luke shivered as a stray, bone chilling breeze blew over him and rigorously rubbed his arms as goose bumps peppered his flesh. Very, very cold and quiet, he realized. There was hardly any sound here, just the muted rhythmic wash of waves against the sand. Why in the world would Asch be here of all places? For that matter, why would he even want to be here? His fragment had said that he could always be found here, but why? Luke couldn't see anything that would make the place even remotely appealing, it was utterly desolate. What could it possibly hold that would keep him here? And where was he?
Luke glanced around, his gaze sharp and scrutinizing, but his search came up empty. This place was empty. There was nothing here but sand and surf, no sign of anyone or anything. Damnit. He curled his hands up into tight fists and bit his bottom lip to keep from screaming his frustration into the vacant, uncaring scenery. He didn't have enough time to start all over again. They didn't have any time left. Even he was starting to feel a frightening exhaustion now, a heavy weight that settled deep inside of him and urged him to simply lie down and sleep. Forever. He didn't want to die. He didn't want either of them to die, but if this kept up it might just happen regardless of whatever his feelings may be. If he could just find him...
Sighing, he rubbed at his face wearily and turned to head back the way he had come. If he had to start over again then he would just have to start over again, the quicker he got to it the quicker he'd find something. He wasn't going to give up. But just as he was about to take a step back, he froze and whirled back around. There had been something there, a small speck of difference that had registered out of the corner of his eye. And there, far down the beach, was a splash of color that stood out from the overlapping grays, an achingly familiar combination of red and black. The fragment hadn't lied to him and led his astray, after all. Asch was here, but he was walking farther and farther away from him.
Blowing out a hard, relieved breath, Luke picked his feet up and sprinted off towards the figure fading in the distance. Finally. He'd found him now and damned if he was going to let the bastard disappear on him again. Not if he had anything to say about it, which he did, many, many things. Asch did not turn as Luke neared, in fact, he just kept right on walking up the shore, apparently disinclined to even acknowledge the presence of his replica. And for some odd reason, Luke found that strangely reassuring. It felt... normal. Being ignored was a typical reaction for him from the Asch that he knew, and it was certainly a familiar one. It was either that or he was getting snarled at for being a complete and utter dreck of a replica.
It wasn't until Luke had caught up and slowed down to a walk beside him, matching him stride for stride, that Asch finally spoke up, "You certainly took your time getting here."
Luke looked at him speculatively for a few seconds, an uneasy silence stretching out between them before he finally decided, that yes, it was Asch this time and not another fragment. Shrugging in mild annoyance, he shot back with, "You didn't exactly make it easy for me to get here, you know."
Asch humphed scornfully, "Were you expecting me to?"
"No, not especially." Luke ground his teeth together in mounting irritation. Oh yes, this was definitely the real Asch, completely arrogant and utterly infuriating. He had finally found him. Luke couldn't resist a small smile of triumph at that simple realization.
Asch eyed him with suspicion. And though Luke wasn't entirely certain, he could almost say that there was some confusion lurking in his expression, almost as if he wasn't entirely sure of what Luke wanted from him or even what he should do with him. But it passed too quickly for him to be certain and Asch was looking away again, his gaze turning back to the sand and sea that stretched out before them. "Let's cut to the chase shall we," Asch said pointedly after a few more seconds of silence passed between the pair, "Surely even you must have noticed that time is swiftly running out on us."
Luke nodded in agreement, but he actually didn't have any idea where to begin. There was too much. And he had gotten so focused on finding Asch that he had absolutely no clue on what to say now that he had found him. Where did one start in this sort of situation?
Asch stopped abruptly, and Luke was hard pressed to not trip over his own feet as he followed suit. "What do you want?" he asked forcefully as his replica turned to face him.
Luke shrugged helplessly in return. Ultimately, it had never been about what he wanted, and probably never would be. "Shouldn't I be asking you that question?"
"What are you, stupid?" Asch snarled and gestured sharply into the air, his mounting ire almost palpable. "You're the one who's been tromping around in my mind. I've given you more than enough to answer any questions you might have, probably more than I should have. But you still insisted on speaking to me directly, so talk already!"
Luke resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He still wasn't sure of what he wanted to say, but he'd be damned if he'd admit that to the bastard. He'd probably just laugh at him. So instead he looked out across the water and asked, "So what exactly is this place?"
Asch growled under his breath then tossed his head irritably and turned to face the sea. "In most mythology it is generally called the Beach of Lost Souls, though there are a few ancient texts where it has been referred to as the final resting place of hope." He smiled wickedly at the aghast look Luke gave him over his explanation. "Yes, I thought you might appreciate the symbolism."
"Why- why the hell would you want to be here?" Luke croaked out after a few seconds spent trying to find his voice.
"Well, I'm sure that someone like you couldn't possibly understand it," Asch said scathingly, "But it is very peaceful here." Crouching down, his displeasure at the unwanted company seemed to fade away as he murmured, "I rather like it here."
"Of course you would," Luke grumbled and crossed his arms, "It's cold as hell and there's absolutely nothing here. It's the perfect place for you, really." Frowning when the expected rebuttal didn't come, Luke glanced down at the God-General and wondered aloud, "What are you doing?" Again, no answer came. Irritated, but curious all the same, Luke leaned over and peered more closely at what Asch was doing. At first, it appeared innocent enough. Asch had placed his right hand down upon the sand, right at the very edge of where the waves could reach. Each time the water would splash over his fingers before rolling back out once again. It took a few seconds of watching this for Luke to notice that the gray water took on a pinkish hue whenever it swirled around his original's hand. An almost red, a familiar red.
Luke was reaching down and yanking Asch's hand up before he even realized what he was doing. "What the hell?!"
Asch chuckled at Luke's obvious shock and indulgently allowed the manhandling. There would be no blood present on his glove, but he already knew that. The sea water here never left traces behind, it didn't work that way. "Disturbed by a little blood?" he remarked in amusement, "Surely life has cured you of that by now."
Luke spared him a short glare before dropping his gaze back down to the hand held within his grasp. The glove was clean, it didn't even feel wet, but he was sure that it had been blood he had seen trailing off into the gray foam. Shaking his head, completely baffled and yes, thoroughly disturbed now, he muttered, "Don't do that again."
"It doesn't hurt," Asch stated plainly as he none to gently wrenched his hand free of his replica's grip and rose to his feet.
"That's beside the point," Luke grumbled as he straightened up.
"Whether it is the point or not really has no bearing on the subject," Asch said flippantly and shrugged, turning his eyes once more to the gray expanse of water, "That is where I shall have to go soon, across the sea. If I do not follow that path, then I risk getting lost here forever."
Luke blinked in confusion. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't, you idiot," Asch sighed in aggravation and shook his head, "And I don't have the time to explain it to you. And thus we have come full circle." He scowled darkly and looked over at Luke. "Now what do you want?!"
Luke did roll his eyes this time. He'd wanted so desperately to find this? Maybe he should have his head examined. "It's still your question."
Asch visibly trembled in rising fury and supreme frustration. "If you had wanted me to kill you so damned badly, you could have just asked. I would have been more than happy to run you through. Several times, in fact."
Luke shook his head and reluctantly tried to explain his reasoning, "I'm not doing this to piss you off. Well, okay, maybe a little, but anyway." He held his hands up as if to ward off any possible impending attacks and swiftly plowed on, "The point is that it really should be about what you want. I mean, everything I have was meant to be yours in the first place. Don't you want it back? You deserve it more than I do. I'm-" he paused for a second and looked away before finally giving voice to the horrible doubts that had plagued him ever since Akzeriuth, "I'm just a stupid, worthless replica. I shouldn't even exist."
"Shut up!" Asch roared, whipping around, his fists slamming past Luke's pitiful defense, sending his replica sprawling out hard across the sand. "Don't ever say that again!" Luke could only stare up at him in utter shock as he seethed. "I cannot believe you would- So stupid- Completely idiotic- What could possibly-" Finally, he stopped his fractured tirade and pointed imperiously down at Luke, his fury still very much in evidence, "Don't you ever say something like that ever again. It's insulting."
Luke blinked dazedly in obvious confusion. Insulting?
"I was not worthless," Asch explained through gritted teeth, "And you were created to replace me, ergo you are not worthless. Can you at least understand that, you fucking moron?"
Frowning stubbornly, Luke propped himself up on his elbows and glared up at the livid God-General. "Fine. You're not worthless. I'm not worthless. So why the hell are you so damned eager to die?"
Asch froze, his eyes widening in pure shock. "How surprisingly observant of you," he finally managed, his shoulders drooping as his previous fury instantly fizzled out. Reaching up, he raked a shaky hand through his hair and laughed. It was an awful sounding laugh, full of bitterness and tinged with something bordering on hysteria. "It's because I don't believe it anymore." Shrugging, he lowered his hand and held it out in front of him, staring blankly down at his empty palm. "What worth could a murderer possibly possess?" He shook his head then. "No, if anything, I deserve to die."
"Oh come on," Luke pleaded as he scrambled back onto his feet. He did not like where this way going. He couldn't possibly- "It's not like you've killed thousands of innocent people."
"Spare me your childish flailing," Asch hissed, his hand curling up into a tight fist as he glared heatedly at his replica, "You didn't waltz into Akzeriuth with the intent to kill all of those people. And while you do bear some of the blame because of your utter lack of intelligence, ultimately you did not mean for it to happen."
Luke shook his head. "I don't-"
"I, on the other hand," Asch continued, cutting short any possible arguments from Luke, "have walked into many places with the sole intent to kill everyone there. And that's exactly what I did." He laughed again, the hysteria he had been fighting even more painfully evident now, "For all that I have said about not trusting Van, I still carried out his orders well. Quite well indeed."
"And I have only myself to blame for the results." Shrugging again hopelessly, Asch turned to the ocean and took a step towards the endless waves. "It's about time I paid for all the pain I have caused."
"No!" Luke cried as he frantically launched himself at his original, sending them both crashing into the sand.
"Get off me!" Asch snarled, twisting frantically under the weight, jerking his elbow up as he threw his head back.
Grunting painfully from the elbow digging into his middle, Luke practically saw stars when the back of Asch's head slammed into his chin. "I'm not letting you go, goddamnit!" he growled as he grabbed the wrist of the offending arm and twisted it between them, using his free arm to hold the God-General's head down and thus, not repeat the sharp agony that his jaw had become. "Stop fighting me!"
Asch had absolutely no intention of listening to his stupid, idiotic replica. How dare he interfere! He didn't know anything! Growling, Asch curled himself up and prepared to buck the fool off, but a distant feeling of warmth stopped him. His brows drawing together in faint astonishment, he shifted his head as much as the weight on top of him would allow and looked out across the water. And saw color.
Luke blinked in surprise as Asch froze underneath him. Well, that had been a lot easier than he had expected. Much too easy, in fact. Frowning in confusion at this strange turn of events, he looked up and froze as well. The sea was turning gold. Was gold. A soft glimmering, familiar golden glow. But it couldn't be possible. There couldn't ever be any sort of comforting warmth or overriding sense of love present in a sea of death, could there? Shaking his head in wonder, Luke looked down and stared blankly at a few crimson wisps of Asch's hair that had fallen close enough for the waves to reach. They drifted there in the golden surf, and they did not bleed.
Completely and utterly flabbergasted, Luke crawled off of Asch and absently helped him to sit up. They glanced at each other in shock before gazing back out across the glimmering water.
"What the hell?" Luke finally managed.
"I-" Asch shrugged in pure bewilderment, "I have no idea."
"It's not... you know... it, is it?" Luke stuttered in apprehension.
"If you mean death," Asch said flatly, rolling his eyes in exasperation, "Then no, I do not believe so." Frowning thoughtfully, he leaned forward and placed both of his hands into the golden sea foam. They tingled from the warmth, but they did not bleed. Somehow, someway the path had been closed. Lifting his hands from the water, he stared at them despondently. He would be doomed to wander aimlessly forever now. Forever lost.
Luke frowned at the stricken look on Asch's face and reached forward, completely unsurprised when he flinched away from him, but he was nothing if not determined. Grabbing ahold of his shoulders Luke yanked him back, and smiled triumphantly when Asch snarled and twisted around, just as he had expected. An arm jammed into his aching jaw again, but he was undeterred and soon he had a cursing God-General thoroughly trapped in his embrace. "Stop struggling," he murmured as he forcefully pressed Asch's face into the crook of his neck, "I'm not going to let go."
Giving a few more halfhearted pushes before resigning himself to the fact that he was stuck for the moment, Asch sighed, "Why are you doing this to me?"
Luke smiled sadly and reached up to gently stroke his original's hair, his smile turning somewhat pained as Asch tensed up under his touch. "Because, and I know this may come as something of a shock, but I do care about you."
"Don't lie," Asch hissed back, "You hate me."
Luke couldn't help an amused chuckle. "Yeah, I hate you about as much as you do me." Asch tensed up even further at his words and Luke feared he was going to start struggling again, but then he abruptly relaxed into the embrace. "I don't want to die," Luke whispered quietly as he continued to stroke Asch's hair comfortingly, "And I don't want you to die. But if you really have to go, then I will go with you."
Asch shook his head in denial. "No, you can't. I won't let you."
"I'm not going to leave you alone again," Luke argued, "You've been alone for too long, I think. You've given up, but I'm not going to. So no matter what you decide to do, I will be right there beside you."
"You don't have to be alone anymore."
Tilting his head back, Asch looked up in wonder at Luke's resolute gaze. Nodding shakily after a moment's time, he lay his head back down and curled his arms around his replica's sides, accepting the tight embrace for what it was. Smiling softly, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to rest for the first time in years.
"That's... fine then."