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.
"It is almost time for lunch."
The others looked up in disinterest at his comment as Jade preceded Ion into the room. He had spent a good deal of the morning scouring the cathedral for information, a task that had been made infinitely easier and yet sometimes more difficult with the Fon Master in tow. He was quite sure that Grand Maestro Mohs was aware of their presence in Daath by now, even though the man had been suspiciously scarce for the entire morning. It was worrisome, but ultimately, Mohs was the least of their concerns. If the Grand Maestro decided to make a nuisance out of himself, then the Necromancer would be more than happy to show him just exactly how he had gotten that title. It would certainly be a most satisfying encounter for one of them. But regardless of the machinations of men with too much power in their hands, he hadn't been able to discover much along the lines of Commandant Grants' activities. Not that he had been expecting much, but you never can tell what you might come up with if you take the time to go digging around for it. However, even with the lack of results, there really wasn't much to worry about there. As long as they continued to oppose Van Grants, then eventually they would cross paths with him again. And then he would die. Good things come to those who wait, so to speak.
His other point of interest, any sort of information regarding the Sephiroth Trees and the Passage Rings, had come up just about as empty. They had found a few books in one of the moldier libraries courtesy of a researcher, with a remarkably sharp photographic memory, who had been able to point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, a precursory examination of them had shown the books to be of little use to him. What pertinent information they may have once possessed had been systematically torn out, it seemed, perhaps by some fanatic or other. Religion could be such a bother when it came to censorship.
"I guess so," Anise murmured mournfully, glancing up through the window to check the location of the sun from her slouch on Ion's cot. "The bell to break fast again will probably be ringing soon." Jade frowned at her, it didn't appear as if she had moved at all since they had last been in. That was troublesome.
"I'm not very hungry," Ion muttered sadly as he plopped down beside his former Guardian and leaned wearily against her, his head drooping down onto her shoulder.
Jade shrugged. "Very well, I suppose missing one meal won't harm you too much in the long run."
Anise snorted, but didn't comment. Shaking his head at her lethargy, Jade crossed the room, ignoring Tear, Guy and the focus of their concern for the moment. Natalia still sat vigil at Asch's side, though Jade noticed with some small amount of relief that she was no longer attempting to heal anything. That was good. He could appreciate the sentiment behind her actions, easing the suffering of others was always a noble goal. However, he'd toyed with the vexing idea of eventually having to force her to stop for her own continued health. But it appeared as if she'd had the presence of mind to know when to do so herself, and thankfully she'd done so before managing to drain herself too far. He did frown slightly at the glint of metal in her lap. A cursory glance at Asch showed that his wrist had been unwrapped. The metal rods. Oh dear. Well, as long as she didn't collapse he would hold his tongue. For now.
Jade nodded a silent greeting to her as he leaned over and checked Asch's pulse. Strangely enough, there didn't seem to be any change at all in his condition. Odd that. His pulse, while still dreadfully weak, remained steady for the most part. Jade adjusted his glasses absently as he straightened up. Stubborn child, what was he waiting for? Why would he still- His thought process was cut short by a brief flash of gold behind him followed swiftly by a soft, low groan.
Jade whirled around, steadying Natalia when she nearly tripped herself up scrambling out of her chair. Tear and Guy were leaning over the cot, both wearing expressions of expectant, if tentative, hope. Amusingly enough, both Ion and Anise had already zoomed across the room and were now hanging off of Guy in anticipation. It would be quite interesting to see just how long it would take him to realize that a girl was touching him and whether the resulting scream of terror would succeed in shaking off some of the plaster from the ceiling.
Luke, if it truly was Luke who was rousing, had gripped his head in the meantime as if in pain and was even now slowly curling up on his side. And he was mumbling something or other, which Jade managed to catch the tail end of as he apologetically shouldered his way past Guy and his limpets. "...didn't have to kick me..." Odd. "...bastard..." Even odder.
Humming in curiosity, Jade leaned over and pried one of Luke's hands off of his head long enough to check his eyes. They blinked up at him, clear and green, before Luke grunted irritably and rolled over, burying his face into the pillow. Well, at least it wasn't Lorelei. And while he didn't want to leap to conclusions, the grumbling did sound remarkably like the Luke they all knew ever so well.
Tear, her brows drawn together in worried consternation, leaned down until her head was practically resting on the pillow beside Luke's and called his name again, "Luke?"
At first, she just got another pained grunt for her trouble, but then he eventually shifted and blinked blearily at her from underneath his arm. "Tear?"
She laughed weakly in relief and nodded at him.
He frowned in confusion and shifted again, lowering his arm as he glanced around at all of the people -his friends- hovering over him. "What are you guys doing here?"
Guy snorted happily in disbelief. "What do you think, you idiot?"
"Oh please, not you too," Luke grumbled halfheartedly as he rolled the rest of the way onto his back and peered curiously up at the ceiling. "Hmm, oh! I remember now." His eyes widened from some realization or other as he quickly sat up and gave Ion an apologetic look, "Sorry about that, Ion."
"Oh, don't worry about it," Ion said with a cheery smile on his face, "I didn't mind."
"No, really, I'm really sorry," Luke babbled as he levered himself up onto his knees and leaned out over the side of the cot, "I'm sure it was kind of shocking, but I really didn't know where else to go, I mean, come on, it's Daath. You're about the only safe thing about Daath."
"Ah, yes," Ion winced almost painfully at that and reached up to hold his cheek self-consciously, "I must apologize for that. My city really ought to be a better place than it actually is."
"Oh, oops. I put my foot in it again, didn't I?" Luke muttered in embarrassment and hung his head. "But it's not your fault Ion, it's Mohs and Master Van and-" He stopped then, his expression turning dark and dangerous. Glaring around at them, he growled, "Where is he?" But seemed disinclined to wait for an answer as he slid off of the cot and abruptly shoved his way past his friends, stopping short for a second before resolutely walking over to the only other bed in use.
Luke skirted around the chair and instead slumped down against the bed, perching on his hip. His face lost the dark edge, instead turning soft and thoughtful as he stared down at his original. Blowing out a breath that almost sounded relieved, he reached down and gently cupped Asch's cheek, rubbing the skin softly with his thumb. The others watched him silently with growing apprehension, but he paid them no heed, his attention focused completely on Asch. After a moment he frowned, his expression turning annoyed. "Oi," he grumbled as he gave the God-General a little poke.
"Oh," Tear gasped in shock and took a step towards the pair, her hand reaching out to stop Luke. Of course he wouldn't know how bad Asch's condition was. He needed to be told. "Luke, I don't-"
Luke jerked his free hand up and waved his finger at her. "Not right now, Tear," he stated firmly as he leaned over and gave Asch a few gentle pats on the cheek. "Hey, come on, wake up." He scowled at Asch's unresponsiveness and sighed in a very put upon manner, "I'm not going to be the only one here, now wake up already." This time, he got results.
The others could only watch on in varying degrees of surprise and shock as Asch's brows twitched and then slowly, ever so slowly, his eyes cracked open. He squinted wearily up at his now cheerfully grinning replica. "See, that wasn't so hard, now was it?" Luke crowed happily. Asch simply stared up at him for several seconds, then blinked drowsily, dragged his right arm up, grabbed Luke by the face and pushed him off the bed.
Luke landed with a very audible thud on the floor between the bed and Natalia's chair. "Ow," he groused as he sat up and rubbed his head. "You didn't have to-" Then stopped and stared at his right hand.
Asch too was staring blankly at his own right hand, or to be more precise, his right wrist. Frowning slightly, he flexed the joint and blinked at the lack of pain. Sighing silently at this strange discovery, he shrugged minutely and lowered his arm across his middle. He could ask about it later. He was too tired to even consider bothering with it at the moment.
Luke climbed to his feet as Asch closed his eyes to rest and turned to the others, shaking his right arm pointedly. "Not that I really mind and all, but what's up with this?"
Jade chuckled. "I'm afraid the responsibility for that falls solely upon Princess Natalia's shoulders. She was quite intent on overdoing it." That said, he stepped up next to the bed and took up the wrist in question. "Now that's interesting," he murmured as he checked Asch's pulse again then leaned over and felt his forehead, "Very interesting."
Luke watched Jade warily for a moment, then shrugged and crossed over to Natalia. He smiled gently as he gave her a quick hug and whispered in her ear, "Thanks, from the both of us."
Natalia blushed as he released her and ducked her head down, smiling tremulously. "I'm glad that you're okay."
"What did you do?" Jade asked sharply as he turned around and gave Luke a harsh glare.
"Uh," Luke began hesitantly and couldn't help but take a step back at the obvious severity in Jade's stare. He hadn't done anything bad, had he? "What do you mean?"
"I mean exactly what I said," Jade stated icily, "What did you do? He was dying, Luke. You are Luke, are you not? And now he is not, so please tell me just what it is that you did."
"Colonel," Anise murmured uncertainly as she disengaged herself from Guy, who still had yet to realize that a girl had been touching him, and trotted over to Jade's side. Why couldn't he just be happy about what had happened? There wasn't anything wrong here... was there?
"Not right now, Anise, this is important." Jade spared her a glance, then pinned Luke with his glare again. "Are you Luke?"
"I... I would hope so," Luke muttered timidly and reached up to scratch the back of his head self-consciously, "I mean, I know I'm a replica and all, but Guy said that I had as much right to the name as anybody else. I guess."
Jade rolled his eyes in mild exasperation and reached up to adjust his glasses. "All right, we've established that you are Luke. Now do please inform the class of just exactly what it is that you did."
"Well, I didn't do anything," Luke grumbled and shrugged, looking everywhere but at Jade, "He did everything himself."
Jade crossed his arms. "Explain."
"Uhm." Luke glanced guiltily around at the others, his eyes lingering the longest on Guy and Tear before letting his shoulders slump in defeat. "I told him that if he was going to die then I'd go with him. We argued about it for awhile. Man, but he's a stubborn bastard. Well, anyway, he finally just said 'Fine!' and kicked me out."
"You what?!" Guy and Tear cried at practically the same time and Luke flinched. Damn Jade and his prying, now he would never hear the end of it.
"How could you do something so stupid?" Guy growled.
"I know we've talked about this already," Tear muttered sourly at the same time.
They both stopped then, glanced at each other, nodded solemnly, crossed their arms and turned to glare pointedly at Luke. "You are in so much trouble."
Luke blanched and backed away from them, his hands held up as if to ward them off, not that that would help him much in the long run. "Look, I'm sorry, but it was important. I swear." He grimaced when his protests only received an arched eyebrow from Tear. "Okay, I'm sorry. It won't happen again." His eyes turned hard then as he quietly snarled to himself, "It had better not."
Tear and Guy looked at each other questioningly, then shrugged. There wasn't too much they could say in this sort of situation. They could both understand where he was coming from, sort of. Maybe. But at least he was back, and that's what mattered the most.
Luke frowned in confusion as something odd finally occurred to him and he started to look around. Humming curiously, he crouched down and peered under the bed and the cots. He scowled at the telltale stain on the floor, but still didn't find what he was searching for. Straightening back up, he rubbed his chin and looked at the others. "Uh, not to sound ungrateful or anything at this oh so pleasant reunion we've got going here, but where's Mieu?"
The others just blinked at him for several seconds before glancing around at each other. Now that they thought about it, they hadn't seen the little cheagle since... Keterburg.
"Oh dear," Jade murmured, a small amused grin curling at the corners of his mouth, "I'm afraid we may have forgotten him."
"Oh, poor Mieu," Tear said, completely ashamed with herself for not having noticed his absence sooner. That poor, cute little dear all alone amidst all of that snow. Surely he was a cheagle popsicle by now.
"I wouldn't worry too much about it," Jade commented cheerfully and shrugged, "I'm sure that someone has found him by now and delivered him into my sister's tender care. He'll be perfectly fine until we have the chance to go pick him up."
"If you say so."
"He really said that, did he?" Nephry asked before taking a sip of her tea and snuggling further back into her plump armchair.
"Mieu, yes he did," the little cheagle squeaked as he jumped down from the coffee table and blew a quick breath onto the flickering fire, making it roar up. "He wouldn't really eat me though, would he?"
"It's my brother," Nephry replied plainly and shrugged, "You can never tell with him."